January’s Olney Town Council meeting was shorter than usual due to Government guidelines on public meetings, which state that they should only be held where absolutely necessary and where they are held, they should be kept as brief as possible.
The meeting was held in a larger room than normal in the Olney Centre and councillors’ chairs were well spaced out around its perimeter. Here is a summary of proceedings.
The Mayor wished everyone a belated Happy New Year and started proceedings, asking if anyone from the public had anything they wished to say. Mr and Mrs Andrew Prosser from Olney said the pathway that connects Dinglederry to Rivetts Close had collapsed and appeared sunken where there are two traffic bollards. The sunken area is wet and full of leaves and they said they knew of people who had slipped over there. It was only a matter of time, said Mrs Prosser, before someone breaks a hip. Phil Geach said the matter would be referred to Milton Keynes Highways Department.
Mr and Mrs Prosser also noted the dirty state of most of the town’s street name signs and said their son Marcus, also from Olney, would be prepared to get a team of volunteers together to wash them – would that be allowed? Mayor Geach said the idea would be considered and the Clerk would respond accordingly.
Mr Prosser also noted the brightness of the street lights in his road. His house is illuminated by ‘daylight’ lights all night, he said, which even keeps the local blackbirds awake. Could they be turned down at all? The Mayor noted the address and said it would be referred to Milton Keynes Highways Department.
These were received from Chris Tennant, David Pibworth, Debbie Whitworth, Debbie Hall, Jane Varley and Colin Rodden.
The Mayor requested that the minutes from the previous meeting in November (December’s gathering was cancelled due to Covid) be approved by councillors and asked if anyone had any points to raise. There were no points, and the minutes were approved.
The Mayor said there was a draft schedule of forthcoming meetings to be approved. Deirdre Bethune said she would prefer it if the schedule was done half yearly and revisited after the May Annual Meeting. She said that the chairs of various committees might change during the year so it would make more sense to plan later meetings throughout the year. Phil Geach asked if there was any statutory reason why that can’t happen. The acting clerk Sarah Kennedy said that she would look into the options and schedule meetings accordingly.
Ian Stokes asked if some Joint User Group (JUG) meetings could be scheduled in. Phil said the acting town clerk would look into the proposal.
Phil Geach said that the next motion was to approve the Annual Budget and precept for the Following Year. He then invited Ben Brown, Chair of the OTC Finance Committee to speak.
Ben wished to highlight some acknowledgements. He said Sarah Kennedy needed thanks for working on the budget papers over the last few months. It’s been a difficult job, he said, but he believed she had produced a good budget. He also wanted to thank those involved in budget setting last year. It was a difficult time with many uncertainties but it’s a budget that got us through that time with a projected surplus for the year, Ben said, adding thanks to all committees who have fed into the budget.
On then, to this year’s proposed budget. The headline figures show they are projecting an income of £159,640.03 and expenditure of £466,825.49. This means the precept request will be £307,185.46 an increase of 3.4% on last year. Throughout the process, Ben said the feedback he received from councillors and residents was that they need to be mindful of the increased cost of living and to keep any increase in the precept minimal. The increase of 3.4% is below inflation and in line with the council tax increase by Milton Keynes Council.
The headlines from income are that they are predicting slightly increased income this year on the assumption of no further restrictions. We have very generously held rents and rates flat for this year, he said. This includes recreation ground rents, allotment rents, market stall fees and cemetery fees. They have also held flat pricing of room hire at the Olney Centre for local groups. This was a reflection of the feeling that sports clubs, social clubs and residents have experienced difficult times and it would be inappropriate to increase fees at this time. However, it is worth signposting now that having been held for two years, he said, an increase is likely across the board next year.
On income, Ben Brown said that this budget should not stand still. There will be work by the office to look at increasing revenue, particularly for services provided by the council to people outside the town.
On expenditure, the biggest cost as ever is staffing costs, Ben said. OTC are proposing an increase in the staffing budget this year, due to consideration of engaging two additional members of staff. This is in response to increased demand for services. That is a message across all our expenditures, he said, adding that they are seeing increased demand. They have had to increase the budget for dog bins, waste collection at the Rec and also security for the Rec in the summer months.
As with income we’re not standing still and actions will be taken to ensure the public are getting value for money, added Ben. Where grants are available to replace revenue expenditure he will seek to do so.
Reserves currently stand at £251,571. This is broken down as follows:
* earmarked reserves £116,122;
* restricted reserves £75,643.56;
* general reserves £59,806.
As part of putting this budget forward we are proposing that the finance committee urgently review reserves policy which will include reviewing the risk register, making an assessment of assets and making a recommendation to the council for reserves levels, said Ben.
He added that he will also be proposing, as earlier mentioned, that they formulate plans to increase revenue and monitor spending so the projected surplus for 2021/2022 is realised.
Deirdre Bethune asked how Ben’s report states extra staffing when none had been approved. Ben replied that the staffing proposal would go before the HR committee and that to include it in budgeted items was prudent.
Peter Geary said there had been some recent changes to the budget following a meeting last month, and asked what they were. Ben said there was a change relating to refurbishing the Market Place toilets. That was £10,000 and was originally going to come from the reserves but that had now been changed.
Deirdre Bethune said some income had come from the town’s hanging baskets. It’s £1,000 of income, she said. Ben agreed that it was £1,000 of income that they weren’t expecting. Peter Geary asked if the council’s budget would have a surplus or a deficit at the end of the year. Ben said that they were £80,000 better off than they were at the same time last year so they were projecting surplus, but he couldn’t say by how much right now.
Peter Geary said that it’s good practice to monitor budgets throughout the year. It won’t be a straight line, he said, adding that the council should put forward how it wants to spend money. This expenditure is for the good of the town, he said, and if we are not spending it, we are not benefitting the town. Deirdre said the reason why there was a surplus was because of the unusual year last year in which not all the money was spent.
Mayor Geach said that it had been a difficult budget for the committee to prepare during Covid times in which they did not know what was happening in the future. They had no idea on income or expenditure he said, adding that Ben and Sarah had done a great job for which he gave his thanks. The Mayor also acknowledged that the previous Council had set a realistic and prudent budget and thanked the previous Finance Committee and Chair.
Peter Geary agreed that it had been a difficult budget to report on. We look for savings, he said, and we look at extra costs against the things we wish to do.
Trevor Aldred added that he thought they should look closely at the whole reporting process.
Deirdre also offered her thanks and asked if the council accept the budget and the precept budget. Both of these were voted in favour.
The next meeting will be held on Monday 7th February 2022 at 7pm in the Olney Centre. If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting, please contact the Town Clerk: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Olney Centre’s large meeting room was once again the venue for this meeting. Here is a summary of proceedings.
Mayor Philip Geach opened by mentioning the passing of Jock Smail, saying he would be sadly missed, and passed on his condolences to Jock’s family.
The Mayor mentioned a letter received from resident Nigel Richards about lack of visibility for motorists at the zebra crossing near the One Stop and also up near the new Sainsburys where, he suggested, vegetation should be removed to improve visibility for traffi c turning towards Sainsburys. He also stated that the road closure on Lavendon Road from 12-23 February ‘will be awkward’ and are there any implications of Francis Jackson Homes residents wanting to park on the Olney side of the works?
These were received from Jane Varley and Colin Rodden, while Chris Tennant had signalled that he was going to be late attending.
These were noted from Ian Stokes (Olney Town Football Club), Trevor Aldred (Community Orchard) and Peter Geary (Landscaping).
The Mayor requested that the minutes from the previous meeting in January be approved by councillors and asked if anyone had any points to raise. Deirdre Bethune said the resolution of the January meeting was subject to the clerk obtaining certain advice and that the minutes should refl ect what happened in the meeting, not what advice was obtained afterwards. Deputy Clerk Sarah Kennedy said advice had been obtained from the SLCC (Society of Local Council Clerks) and had been noted. Peter Geary proposed that the minutes be accepted as they stand. This was approved by all of the meeting except Deirdre, who declined.
Kay Pettit, Programme Manager for Parish and Town Councils at MK Council was invited to speak about the landscaping services in Olney for the next few years from 2023 when a new arrangement will have to be agreed. Pre-2014 landscaping in the town was paid for and carried out by MK Council. It was then decided to put it out to tender. MK Council were willing and happy for the devolution of landscaping services and Olney Council agreed to take it on. A similar decision was made in 2018. MK Council continued to sign up parish councils to deliver their own landscaping and in 2020 Olney signed up again. A new agreement is now being sought from April 2023 but ideally Milton Keynes Council is looking for an agreement by March. Maps and a list of service requests has already been sent to OTC, said Kay, but until Olney agrees, nothing can move forward. Deirdre asked if the grant from MK for landscaping actually covers the cost of the work. Kay said the amount was based on what Serco, a public services provider, charged MK for work which was then broken up across the borough. This figure, though, would not be known until later in the year. Ian Stokes noted that OTC was being asked to agree to sign up in March, but the actual cost would not be known until October or November. What if we don’t like the actual fi gure when that point arrives, he asked. Kay said OTC could still withdraw from the agreement at that time if they didn’t like it. Debbie Hall asked if it was possible to take over the maintenance of Olney’s play areas without actually owning them, adding that Olney’s play areas were ‘tattier’ than many of those in Milton Keynes. Peter Geary said that if OTC took them over, they would need to be in a useable state. Debbie said that if we were responsible for the play areas, we would have more immediate control over them.
Ian Stokes said there was lots of growth coming in the area, but the current maps don’t show that. Kay answered that MK Council would pay more for that upkeep if it was necessary. Phil Geach mentioned Whirly Pit Roundabout which Kay said had now been added to MK’s mapping system, although not in the current agreement, adding that ‘some very fast roads lead into it’. MK would like Olney to take on Whirly Pit Roundabout, but Phil Geach felt that, as they had the appropriate equipment and that it was not currently part of the existing agreement, MK should keep it, and at a safe level. Peter Geary said trees and foliage on the roundabout should be kept at low level, while Deirdre added that the rules seems to change between lots of growth to stop drivers ‘dashing through’ to cutting it all back. What will it be next year, she asked.
Peter Geary said they really should make a decision before March and Ben agreed, saying it would be useful to know the costs.
Elaine Herniman and Rohan Wedge from the Community Orchard committee attended the meeting. They had fi rst asked if they could create an orchard in January 2019 and it was agreed in January 2021 that they could – and that it should be tied in with the Amazing Grace (AG250) celebrations this year when the town will start commemorations of the 250th anniversary of the world-famous hymn. They asked to change the lower end of the Allotment Field and had received funding from the MK Community Foundation and the Co-op Community Fund. They plan a 25 tree-planting session on 19th - 20th March which will include the planting of hedgerows to mark the orchard with a natural boundary and create an environment for wildlife too. There would also be a log circle erected, they plan to buy two large picnic benches and there would be two information boards and possibly some sculptures. The committee wanted to ask OTC if they could move ahead with this planning. Trevor Aldred asked if the two hedgerows would cause problems for existing growth, but Elaine said there would be no confl ict in putting hedgerows near the trees. Peter Geary asked if the equipment such as spikes used to protect the hedgerows would contain plastic. Elaine said equipment had been secured from the Woodland Trust but she was not sure if it was plastic.
Ian Stokes said he loved the whole idea but was worried about vandalism: would people hang around at night and turn the place into a fi repit? Elaine said that the area was near a well-trodden path and that there would be an element of self-policing by local people. She hoped residents would help to keep the area free of litter and look after it. Debbie Hall added that she thought teenagers tended to discipline themselves.
The planting of hedgerows was agreed in favour, and the other equipment discussed would be presented and decided upon at a later date.
Phil Geach said that last summer a ‘Data Point’ had appeared at the Market Place bus stop. He has had a meeting with Milton Keynes Council to discuss moving the equipment to the right of the bus stop or even put it inside the shelter. Deirdre asked if he could look at re-siting the ‘horrendous’ waste bin next to it. The rehousing programme on the Yardley Manor estate was going well. OTC had a good relationship with MK Housing , Phil said. There are 19 houses on the estate which MKC have agreed will be kept for Olney residents forever, he said, and added that further meetings are planned to discuss families that need help.
Two lifebuoys are ready for positioning by the water down at the Rec, said the Mayor.
He asked what plans are being made for the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations. Dan Rowland, who is the Chair of the Working group responsible for Jubilee events, said that there were plans for celebrations on 4th June possibly using the Football Club. There might also be some staging where some events involving children could be held, such as singing ‘Amazing Grace’. People could also be encouraged to wear 1950s style costume or red, white and blue clothing. It would, he added, be like a town picnic and might encourage people to socialise with each other. There was also talk of a play about John Newton (the Olney-based cleric who wrote Amazing Grace). David Pibworth said that they had not received the rights to do this yet and this could take time to achieve and might not be possible. Better, perhaps, to ask people what they wanted to see.
Dan Rowland said if residents wanted to take part in the celebrations the town could do something similar to the annual Dickens of a Christmas event, with stalls around East Street. He said vintage vehicles might be possible to arrange. They were also looking at lighting the town’s beacon. Ian Stokes said the ideas were very ‘weather-reliant’ and that there should be a ‘Plan B’ to weatherproof it. Debbie Hall pointed out that Newport Pagnell’s Vintage Event was planned for 4th June, so there could be a clash there. Deirdre Bethune said Olney’s event was a local aff air with the people of Olney performing. Debbie said local people would organise their individual street parties themselves, although Naomi Brock, while adding that there was a May Ball planned at the Rugby Club, asked how many people would prefer to organise a street party against coming to a town event.
Ben Brown said nothing had been budgeted for yet, causing David Pibworth to say that time was against them so they should move now more swiftly. Mayor Geach said they should perhaps plan one big event and plan a smaller one, as a ‘Plan B’ including lighting of the Beacon.
Sarah Kennedy said she had received an email seeking approval to use the Market Place for the annual Motorama car event on 12th June. The River Festival was another event seeking permission. They want to use the Rec, said Sarah. The main part of the event would be on the rugby fi elds with the nursery fi eld being used as a marshal-controlled parking area. Deirdre Bethune was concerned that if the weather was bad this arrangement could ruin the fi eld, but Ian Stokes said no other events were planned there so it would probably be OK. He did though, ask for proper control of that parking area adding that when glass bottles are left there it can be dangerous for players using the pitch afterwards. Mayor Geach said approval could be granted subject to checks on the weather.
The Big Olney Food Festival (BOFF) was another request to consider but was approved in theory. Organisers were asking for permission to put a marquee on the Market Place, similar to that used for the Pancake Race. Peter Geary asked how the tent would be secured to which Deirdre replied it would be with stakes, which had not caused a problem in the past. Any holes were always fi lled in afterwards she added. Phil Geach said he had asked if fi xed pilot holes could be installed with some grant funding but was told ‘no’ because they were considered permanent.
Sarah Kennedy also said that St Peter and Paul Church asked to use the Glebe Field for parking. Deirdre said she did not think they should allow parking there and Ian said it would create a diffi cult access point. But Debbie Hall said this was literally for one or two days in the whole year – ‘yes’ the clerk added: 16th and 17th July. The Mayor said that allowing the parking would be setting a precedent, but Debbie thought they were objecting for nothing. Naomi Brock believed that access would be diffi cult and Church Street could end up ‘rammed’ and dangerous. The Mayor wanted to know if the fi eld would be matted and marshalled. Clarifi cation would be sought from the organisers.
The clerk said that an interim internal audit took place in December. The report concluded that ‘there has been a signifi cant improvement over the course of the year’. The Mayor said that our thanks to Sarah for her hard work should be minuted.
Sarah reported that discussions were taking place with the Cricket Club to arrange using OTC’s equipment during the forthcoming cricket season. The council have been making insurance arrangements for this initial trial period. Sarah added that arrangements will be reviewed again after the initial trial period.
The clerk said that a safety report on the MUGA (Multi Use Games Area) had come back fi ne. The goalposts needed securing and there were some problems with broken glass and mould on the surface but once this was sorted, the MUGA would re-open.
A number of grant applications had been made: £40,000 was available for certain work. Application had been made in respect of the redecoration of the Market Place toilets, and the planting of trees around the Market Place; and lights for next Christmas. She added that the Olney Centre was busy and had received many requests about holding birthday parties.
Phil Geach said the Tennis Club wanted to renew its fl oodlighting. LED lights have been asked for, he said, and OTC can have a say as they are the landlords. It could be approved in principle subject to any planning application and conditions. He asked if OTC accept the proposal and that was carried.
Mayor Geach said that, following an informal meeting with the police, they have said that policing, including spot checks will be increased during the summer on the Rec. Their approach will be more robust and tickets will be issued. There will be a general increased visibility of PCSOs. Phil said he spoke to Matthew Barber (Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner) recently but was waiting for a response from him. Naomi Brock said that she had been hearing about the increase in PCSOs for some time and asked if anyone knew what their shift patterns were.
Phil said they don’t usually work during the night. Naomi said OTC really need to keep a closer eye on what the police actually do this year – she didn’t believe anything would change. Phil said the police wanted to change the way they do things, but, at present, are limited to the hours in which the neighbourhood team operate. The hours, he said, are the problem. David Pibworth complained that the police say they are going to do something more and then they don’t. The police are not good enough, he added, and we have to address that. Leanne asked that OTC really try to produce ‘something different’ this year to show they are trying to change things. Peter Geary said he could ask Milton Keynes Council for another PCSO. Phil asked if he would take that plan forward and Peter said he would ‘certainly ask’. Debbie Whitworth said Olney was not on the police radar because the town is ‘too nice’ and Ian Stokes agreed saying we do have to do something ourselves.
David Pibworth asked if councillors thought residents would pay more to have ‘their own police force’ even though they are already paying for one (in their Community Charge).
Debbie Hall said we don’t need to pay for a full year’s policing. We need more police in the summer, for example down at the Rec, along with security personnel, but we don’t need it all year. Naomi disagreed: ‘we need it all year round’ she believed. David Pibworth said some people don’t know how to report issues to the police on-line. Could we get a liaison councillor of some kind, he asked. Phil said that he didn’t believe that the police will accept reports of crime from “third parties”. Debbie Hall said she tried to report an issue on the ‘101’ police line and it just rang out. Police should be going into schools, talking to teenagers, investing time in the local area. Children would respond well if they had talks with the police, she believed, adding that if the police were increasing giving out tickets the teenagers would know something was happening in the town. Leanne said OTC should concentrate on the policing side of it. Having people on the ground generally does disperse groups. The key to it, she said, was providing a feeling of security for residents.
Deputy Clerk Sarah Kennedy said she was hoping for a report on the building in the next few days. We have done all the investigative work, she said, and soon we can make a decision on it. The tenant of the building was aware of this and would be kept informed, she added.
Phil Geach said he discovered that OTC has a 999 year lease arrangement on the fi eld and was waiting now for a report about what the intentions are for the playing area there.
The word ‘hybrid’ is a bit of a misnomer – in this context it means fi lming or recording the meeting so that more people can follow what’s happening even if they are not there. David Pibworth asked if OTC would allow a camera to show the meeting going on or even just recording equipment so that residents could listen in. Mayor Geach said that it might make it easier for residents to follow and take notes.
Ben Brown said that the cost should not be a problem but that there was a chance councillors might say different things when they were being recorded than if it was an unrecorded meeting. They might be worried that something could be taken out of context, he added. Leanne said she would object for that very reason: that things are misunderstood, it gets put on to social media and then councillors feel the backlash of that from residents. It has happened to her in the street before, she said.
Debbie Hall said she would be against filming meetings but is not so concerned about recording them. Phil Geach said it might be useful for people who can’t attend a meeting to at least know what’s going on, even though councillors doing so could not vote in that way. However, he said it had potential subject to further investigation and costs being established.
Dan Rowland accepted the point about views being misunderstood but he added that councillors are only there because the people of Olney have put them there and they agreed to take on the role. Peter Geary said if it cost £500 to organise some kind of recording equipment all well and good, but if it was £5000, he would not be so agreeable. Let’s get the costs, he said. Sarah Kennedy said that the scheme would involve a lot of internal work for council staff. Sarah pointed out that when meetings were live streamed during Covid that the average number of listeners was three.
Discussion was had over possible splitting of the Recs and Services Committee into two due to its large size and also combining HR with fi nance. Due to the crossover of decisions it was agreed that further work be done on this. The HR committee was discussed in which Naomi Brock and Debbie Whitworth were considered for inclusion. Deirdre said it was the only committee limited in numbers. Ian Stokes said he was happy to resign from the committee to allow Naomi and Debbie in. Colin Rodden can not take his place currently as he is injured and unavailable. It was proposed that Naomi and Debbie replace Ian and Colin, which was carried.
Next Meeting - March
The next meeting will be held at 7.30pm on Monday, March in the Council Chamber in the Olney Centre. Members of the public are always welcome to attend and, if they wish, speak at the start of the meeting. or at any point that the mayor decides is appropriate.
Ian Stokes and Trevor Aldridge. Phil Geach arrived later to the meeting which was initially chaired by Naomi Brock. Office minutes were taken by Jane Brushwood in the absence of the town’s Acting Clerk who was sick.
A 15 minute forum open to the public.
Two members of the public wished to speak:
The first was Stuart Dorrill who gave a talk regarding the leased premises used by his company Caveman Conditioning and discussed later in the agenda. He asked two questions:
• How passionate are Olney Town Council in supporting the health and well-being of residents?
• How important to OTC are local businesses to the town?
He reminded councillors that Caveman now employs nine local people from Olney.
The second speaker and resident was Andrew Prosser who wanted to thank OTC for progressing a street lighting issue in Dinglederry.
Declarations of interest were stated by Peter Geary (knowledge of a land agent) and by Chris Tennant (trains with Caveman Conditioning) regarding items discussed later in the meeting.
Debbie Whitworth stated that she and David Pibworth were incorrectly recorded as not attending the last Full Council meeting.
After discussion on this subject it was proposed that OTC would put Ukrainian fl ags at both the Olney Centre and the Market Place to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Dan Rowland additionally suggested that the Clerk check that there are no fi nancial or energy links with Russia and it was agreed to investigate this.
Debbie Hall said that posters showing solidarity were also available from the Phonebox Magazine, which have been produced by Orchard Press at no charge, and that she and Alex Thomsen would be organising Ukrainian flags down the High Street as a private initiative.
Deirdre Bethune suggested fl ags could also be put on existing High Street Christmas tree brackets should residents wished to do this.
Information was given by Keith Wheeler (MK Council) and Lee Turner (Thames Valley Police) regarding Speed Watch initiative. This was a partnership (paid for by a grant from the Police & Crime Commissioner) that allows local councils to participate in gathering data about speeding problems in a more coordinated way for the benefi t of residents.
It permits hand-held devices to be used by authorised volunteers at ‘hot spots’. Speeding drivers will be checked rapidly for valid road tax and MOT and will receive graduated warning letters followed by enforcement action. Evidence of persistent speeding will start the process of looking at suitable traffic management such as road signs, speed indicators, calming etc.
Napier parking presented outline proposals for the East Street sport’s club car park covering structural matters such as pot holes, white lining, signage. payment (such as pay and display, permits and exemptions) and legal enforcement including using ANPR cameras and wardens. This would be for a possible fi ve year contract. It was confi rmed Napier had no power to remove a vehicle. Total income generated for these 100 spaces was estimated at around £60-70,000/year with a proportion of this going to OTC.
Ben Brown suggested that OTC should consult with users as parking charges were always controversial amongst both visitors and residents. Chris Tennant asked that in the interests of procurement transparency, more than one tender be sought. Jane Varley would work up a proposal and put this to a full committee of OTC.
New trees were now being planted around the edge of the Market Place that were due to bloom shortly. It was noted by Mercury that these trees were coupled to fi rm posts and protected by a steel ornate cage to hopefully give protection from careless parking. Work on completely refurbishing the toilets had begun which will include a mother and baby/disabled user push-button access. This was fi nanced with the help of a grant.
The Cherry Fair was now going ahead after all. New grant-funded Christmas lights for the High Street/Market Place had been obtained.
Another two families had benefi tted from the new aff ordable housing in Olney, although it was noted that help had been requested with regard to fl ooring and white goods that was not initially supplied in these properties.
It was agreed that from April 2023, existing arrangements would stay in place, but it was noted that this would not include any local council work on the Whirly Pit roundabout (for example cutting down vegetation) which would have been prohibitively expensive. That work would continue to be done by MK.
Ben Brown proposed that the reserve policy document changes would put the duty on the Responsible Financial Offi cer (Town Clerk) to make a recommendation on reserve levels. This should be reviewed every year. It was also proposed that full council accept a reserve of a 35% target for net revenue expenditure by March 2025. This was agreed.
MK Northeast Rural Community Forum
Phil Geach agreed to represent Olney at the MK Northeast Rural Community Forum formally named the Neighbourhood Action Group. User groups, police and parish councils meet quarterly.
Phil Geach had investigated possible costs for making council meetings available to the public after they had taken place. In particular, he had looked at the example and costings of Stantonbury that had successfully introduced a video system for later playback. It was estimated that in Olney, the cost would be around £5000.
It was noted by Mercury that such a system was proposed at the previous council meeting by David Pibworth and others in the interests of transparency, openness and democracy. After much discussion about the numbers of people who might want to watch meetings after they had taken place (Deirdre Bethune controversially suggested three!), it was emphasised by Naomi Brock and Colin Rodden that it was important to put this to the town via both an OTC page and in the Phonebox so that a meaningful level of support was obtained. This proposal was supported unanimously.
Following a recent OTC report on subsidence together with costings for building and roof repair, there were additional possible costs reported by Jane Varley on drainage issues. As a business was currently operating on the premises (Caveman Conditioning), costings would be provided to councillors at the end of the council meeting where the public were excluded with regard to demolish, repair or demolish and rebuild.
It is understood by Mercury that this item was again deferred to a future meeting given the large potential costs involved, estimated to be nearly half a million pounds, for full demolish and rebuild.
A discussion took place on a number of potential locations for seven trees representing seven royal decades of service. Sites especially considered included the Community Orchard (near the allotments) and Barnfi eld (at the town’s beacon location off Aspreys).
Although the trees were now ready to be planted, Peter Geary said that the council needed to understand the eventual height of tree and soil type to determine a suitable position and, if Barnfield was chosen, to ensure that rare fl ora that included orchids, were not damaged in the process.
The final decision was delegated to Jane Varley as Head of Recs and Services who would consult with the arboreal expert at Milton Keynes for advice, location and design.
Dan Rowland as head of the Jubilee event working party explained that he and his team had put in considerable work on this and had had enthusiastic off ers of help and participation from the schools, Cowper and Newton (Amazing Grace 250th celebration) and Royal British Legion as well as a number of arts-based contributors such as the Saltmine theatre company.
The event, including stage hire, had been fully costed and potential funds found from a Milton Keynes Arts Council grant covering the cost of £8,800. This ensured there would be no cost to Olney Town Council.
Given the interest and demand for such an event after two years of Covid restrictions, Dan believed there was great enthusiasm to celebrate the Jubilee and requested that the above funds be underwritten by the council in the unlikely event that the grant application were to fail.
However to the surprise of shocked councillors and visitors, the news was revealed that Olney Town Council office had pre-emptiveley withdrawn the application without adequate explanation to the working group.
As a result, one working group councillor, David Pibworth, had resigned.
Dan added that while the office had mysteriously and embarrassingly blocked the resubmission of the application, he understood from MK that it would still be possible to resubmit if there was suffi cient goodwill and support by the council.
Phil Geach said as the Clerk’s line manager that while he had no information about the reason for the withdrawal, he would find out what had happened and report back
It was agreed that there would be a further discussion to resolve this critical Jubilee event agenda item on Thursday 10th March 2022. The meeting ended with two remaining agenda items where there were no comments on items reviewing OTC Expenditure or Representations at external meetings.
Phil Geach said there may have been some ‘confusion’ over the application process and thanked the working group team for their hard work, adding that their on-line submission had been very detailed. The Mayor added that there had been much heated discussion on this subject and everyone owed a duty of courtesy to each other. He then invited further comment.
Dan Rowland agreed that there had been much misunderstanding but it was time now to put that behind us, move forward and put the application back on track for the sake of the town. He proposed resubmitting the application.
Debbie Whitworth stated that a huge amount of eff ort had been put into this event to date and Chris Tennant and Naomi Brock believed OTC should now look positively at this important town occasion. The Head of fi nance, Ben Brown, admitted that it had been a mistake to not include this event in the budget and while he could not agree to underwriting the occasion itself he did support it in principal.
He added that in any case the Queen’s green canopy and tree planting should be considered by the public as a signifi cant contribution by the council.
Jane Varley believed that this event was rather ‘niche’ but this was strongly challenged by Dan Rowland and Naomi Brock who pointed out that up to 1000 school children and their families were involved as well as expected visitors to the cultural acts and the ‘picnic in the park’ celebration.
Peter Geary however believed that a reference to 2000 people should be downgraded just in case this fi gure was not realised as this might affect future applications. Ian Stokes also believed that a successful event might dilute attendance to the town’s pubs! Colin Rodden felt that such talk was rather negative and suggested that councillors should get behind this application more enthusiastically and patriotically. Colin added that as the event falls in next year’s budget, perhaps some finances could be found from there. Peter Geary recommended that the Amazing Grace participation be removed to cut down on costs but it was pointed out by Dan that the submission included a requirement to include two or more cultural partnerships.
In the meantime Phil Geach outlined his own separate attempt to organise an evening Jubilee event at Barnfi eld (involving fi reworks and beacon lighting) and was confident in fi nding sponsors in due course. At this stage no grant application had been made and it was simply at the ‘expression of interest’ stage. The quoted cost of fi reworks alone was in the region of £3000-£6000 and there was some discussion – previously led by Deirdre Bethune – whether loud explosions were appropriate at this sensitive time of invasion in Europe. It was agreed to consider ‘quiet’ fi reworks as a possible alternative.
The Mayor, Phil Geach, stated that he now supported the event and given that children would be key participants, said that he was probably able to off er £2000 of sponsorship money. Mercury understands this cash was generated by local egg sales earlier in the year by school children. He added that more volunteers might need to be co-opted to the working group as well as on the event itself which was agreed.
Finally while a proposal to underwrite this event by Colin Rodden was rejected by a majority of councillors, a second proposal agreeing to urgently resubmit the application itself was supported unanimously.
Mayor Phil Geach opened the meeting by explaining that normal procedure would be for the meeting to commence with the 15 minute open forum Public Participation item but this month he would be suspending a particular Standing Order (3F for those that follow such matters) so that an item not on the agenda could be discussed. Mercury assumes that this means the following will not appear in the o fficial minutes of the meeting.
Phil said a letter had been received from a member of the public which he felt was of such importance that he was happy for it to be read out and he would also answer the questions raised therein. Deputy Clerk Jane Brushwood then read out some extracts from the letter. The correspondent said she was perplexed by what she had read in Phonebox Magazine regarding the application for a grant from Milton Keynes Council (MKC) for the Queen’s Jubilee and the fact that a councillor had resigned over the matter.
Why was the application withdrawn, she asked, and if it was due to an administrative technicality this was not an acceptable reason as any grievances should have been ‘ironed out’ before the application was withdrawn. Why had the item vanished from the agenda of the current meeting?, she asked. Phil explained that he hadn’t personally withdrawn the application and nor did he instigate the withdrawal. The Clerk, otherwise known as the ‘Proper Offi cer’, is the only person authorised to submit grant applications on behalf of the council, he said. The Clerk is also responsible for ensuring that the council does not commit any act which might leave it legally exposed. He went on to say that members of the Jubilee working group had requested that the Acting Clerk submit an urgent application, due to the impending deadline. The Acting Clerk contacted the mayor and asked if the application could be submitted and retrospectively approved at the next council meeting, to which he agreed. Two members then asked the Acting Clerk to assist with the application, which she did by email but made clear to the members that they should not submit the application themselves as they did not have the authority to do so, and all such matters should go through her.
Milton Keynes Community Foundation then replied via email saying that the application should be submitted online. The working party, being keen to meet the deadline, submitted the online application but neglected to inform the Acting Clerk. Two days later the Acting Clerk received a copy and noted that not only had it been submitted without her knowledge or approval it had now been amended to include a statement which could be misleading as it stated that the council intended to work with other named community groups in the future, which had never been discussed or agreed by the council.
Following independent legal and professional advice the Acting Clerk concluded that whatever the motivation it would be wholly inappropriate for the application to proceed so she withdrew it. Dan Rowland, a member of the working party, attempted to interject at this stage saying that was one side of the matter and asked for the right to reply but Phil refused, saying it was not part of the meeting.
[The reason neither Dan, nor indeed any other councillor, was able to speak at that time was that the letter was only able to be answered as it was addressed directly to the Chair not the Council as a whole. As it was not an agenda item discussion was not allowed under Council Rules.]
Phil said he had no doubt that the working group acted with the best of motivations and the Acting Clerk did what she thought was right in terms of legal procedure and governance. There was no judgement, those were just the facts, he said. In answer to the question of why it had been removed from the agenda Phil said it had never been on the agenda, so it had not vanished.
Dan Rowland once again attempted to interject but Phil said he was just responding to questions asked in the letter. He concluded by saying that he hoped the questions had been suffi ciently answered and people would now move on and try to do something that was right and worthwhile for the town. The correspondent had also made a comment about Phil personally, saying he didn’t know ‘how the town ticks’. Phil admitted that he wasn’t born in Olney but moved here after careful consideration and had grown to love the town, fi nding the residents kind, supportive and considerate. He said he disagreed with the author, listing several things that he considered made Olney tick whereby people give their time freely to the community.
Joanne Eley asked why the Union Flag was not fl ying alongside the Ukraine fl ag by the war memorial in the Market Place. Phil said the council would reply in writing as the item was not on the agenda.
Nigel Richardson said he moved to the town seven months ago and living near Sainsbury’s was aware of the problems concerning the Whirly Pit roundabout. He said that the roundabout was too big and should ideally be completely reprofi led but recognised that that would be expensive. As a minimum the vegetation which was currently preventing a clear view of the pedestrian crossing outside of Sainsbury’s should be removed. Referring to the crossing outside of One Stop, he said it is impossible to see pedestrians waiting to cross at night because the white lights on the poles are too bright and there are too many bollards nearby. Moving on to the various sets of roadworks that had taken place in the locality, he said there were problems with the protocols operated by Milton Keynes Council (MKC) which were evident in other villages too. Contractors shut the roads for far longer than necessary and do no work for much of the closure. He asked that residents complain to MKC and suggested there should be penalties for overrunning. Lastly, he said that when the MK East development starts there is a potential closure of the A509 between J14 and Newport Pagnell for up to six months which OTC needs to be aware of.
Debbie Whitworth reported that following on from a visit from herself, Ward Councillor Keith McClean and an MKC Safety Officer, MKC had confi rmed that they would continue to review and monitor the situation regarding the pedestrian crossing on Lavendon Road. Many members of the public had expressed their dissatisfaction with the CCTV footage and survey, and the fi ndings of the report that there were no problems regarding pedestrian safety. Debbie said she had emphasised that there had been major changes since the roundabout had been installed, with new housing, retail outlets, supermarket and a future nursery which would all have a huge impact on the dangers associated with more traffi c and higher footfall. MKC are aware of the poor sightlines caused by the vegetation and will regularly cut it back, but Debbie said that was insuffi cient and she will push for total removal of the vegetation. She said in that past week she had been made aware of three ‘near misses’ and as a result parents were not happy for their children to walk to school, which was in turn leading to more cars in the vicinity of the school. Debbie suggested that there should be a public consultation questionnaire on the matter and asked that the council support the suggestion. She said that the MKC Safety Offi cer was fully supportive of a survey but when questioned by Deirdre Bethune as to whether MKC would fund it she replied that they wouldn’t. A discussion then took place as to the best format of the questionnaire to gain the maximum exposure that wouldn’t be totally web based. Deirdre felt that it was important to understand the costs involved and Phil Geach said the wording would need to be chosen carefully so as not to include leading questions which could infl uence the outcome. It was agreed to seek the views of the public regarding the Whirly Pit roundabout and traffic management. A small working group will defi ne the questions which will then be agreed by the full council.
Stuart Dorrill had written to ask that the minutes of the previous meeting be amended to include the correct name of his business Caveman Conditioning, not Bodyforce. The Rugby Club’s annual 7s tournament will take place on Saturday 18th June and the club have asked for permission to use the Nursery Field (football pitch) for car parking, which was granted.
Following the resignation of David Pibworth, a vacancy now exists on the council. Phil Geach explained that an election would be called if within 14 days of a vacancy being declared 10 members of the electorate requested an election. No such request had been received so the vacancy will now be widely advertised and fi lled by co-option at the June meeting. Advertisements will be placed on the town noticeboard, the OTC website and in the Phonebox. A policy document for co-option exists which had been sent out to all councillors for review and none had any comments.
‘To consider exclusion of Public and Press Representatives pursuant to the Public Bodies (admission to meetings) Act 1960 on the basis that publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by the confi dential nature of the business to be contracted.’
The items on this part of the agenda were:
• An update on personnel matters
• To discuss and approve a proposal relating to the future of the Football Club building at the recreation ground.
The motion was proposed and passed so Mercury and the seven members of the public present duly excluded themselves.
The next meeting will be held on Monday 9th May, at 7.00pm in the Olney Centre. If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting, please contact the Town Clerk, email@example.com.
The Annual Town Meeting will take place at The Olney Centre on Friday 20th May at 7:00. All Olney residents are permitted to attend and question their Town Councillors, Ward Councillors, and police representatives.
This sitting was the Annual Meeting of Olney Town Council – an important gathering which included the election of the Mayor and Deputy Mayor among the items on the agenda. New Town Clerk Jane Brushwood also took a place at her fi rst OTC next to Mayor Phil Geach.
The Mayor started the meeting by saying that as usual there would be a 15-minute open forum Public Participation section and that, as with last month, he was suspending Standing Order 3F which meant that an item not on the agenda could be spoken about.
Resident Kevin Viney gave mention of how proud he was that Olney has shown its support for the people of Ukraine by fl ying their fl ag in solidarity and of the town’s residents who have given generously to this cause.
He also had a point to make about the Annual Veterans’ Dinner, saying: ‘I’d like to make a small mention of how proud I feel for our town which has shown its support for the people of Ukraine by fl ying their fl ag in solidarity and of course for the many residents who have given generously to this cause in other ways.
‘I was however taken aback to hear a proposal that the Annual Veterans’ Dinner should be downgraded from a full meal with drinks to simply tea and cake in order to save money. Is that really the best we can do for those who have served this country and to remember in some cases people who gave their lives?
‘I listened to a lone voice, councillor Rodden, who argued for the main meal to be restored and who wondered, in comparison, how it was that OTC could spend tens of thousands of pounds on legal fees following a grievance complaint from a former member of staff . He was told to keep quiet despite this fi nancial information being in the public domain. As it happens, the Head of the Finance sub-committee later confi rmed that at least £4,000 of hospitality money went unspent during the Covid years and a veterans’ full meal would be a small fraction of this.
‘So, could I ask the council to reconsider this rather mean-spirited decision – and to do so by the 20th May for the Town Meeting – where I note incidentally that wine will be served by the council to the public seemingly without any embarrassment or irony.’
The points made were noted by the Council.
[Editor’s note: following this OTC meeting, the council decided that the Annual Veteran’s Event will include a buff et, consisting of sandwiches and wine, along with tea and cake.]
Before moving on to the election procedure, Phil Geach asked the Council to bear with him for two minutes. As you know, he said, I’m not standing. But I want to say thank you so much for doing me the honour this time last year of electing me to be Mayor. It had been a thoroughly enjoyable year for the most part, he added to a hushed room, even with a few trials to overcome. But overall it had been a great honour and whoever took over from him would do an ‘even better job’, he said.
If there was not a clear majority on the fi rst vote, Phil said he was unwilling to use his ‘casting vote’ and would put the vote back to Council. If, after a second vote though, the situation was the same, he said he would reluctantly use his vote. As it turned out, that was not going to be needed. Ian Stokes thanked Phil for his time as Mayor. It was a very diffi cult year, he said, but he wanted to thank Phil for ‘everything he had done for the town’.
Only two council members were put forward for the vacant post: Ben Brown, nominated by Ian Stokes and seconded by Jane Varley, and Debbie Whitworth, nominated by Dan Rowland and seconded by Debbie Hall.
Members voted and Ben Brown was elected Mayor by a clear majority. Ben accepted the decision with thanks and best wishes from the outgoing Mayor. He thanked Debbie Whitworth for standing, saying ‘it’s always good to have a choice’. He thanked Phil for his year in offi ce and acknowledged the work that the Mayor had put in.
Dan Rowland nominated Debbie Whitworth for this position which was seconded by Naomi Brock. There were no other nominations so a ‘paper’ vote was not deemed necessary. Councillors were happy to agree the appointment with a show of hands and it was carried unanimously.
Moving on to business, there was one apology for absence, Leanne Ward. Nobody had a declaration of interest to register, and the minutes of the last meeting in April were deemed an accurate record.
We have lots to cover here, said new Mayor Ben, now in the chair with the offi cial chain around his neck. Let’s do it line by line, he said. Receive the minutes of the last meeting by various committees: There were no comments or amendments so Ben suggested the minutes for Finance, Planning and ODG (Olney Development Group) were acknowledged as received.
Many of the items on the agenda had come direct from Standing Orders said Clerk Jane Brushwood, so they were unlikely to attract comments or amendments from Councillors. ‘Consideration of the recommendations made by a committee’, for example, brought no comments. It was the same for ‘Review of delegation arrangements to committees, staff and other local authorities’ and ‘Review the Scheme of Delegation and Terms of Reference’. Appointment of Members to Committees: The next agenda point concerned councillors joining various bodies. The Dickens Committee currently contains Phil, Deirdre Bethune, Naomi, Ben and Debbie Whitworth. Did anyone want to leave that group or join it, asked the Mayor. There were no changes.
The Finance Committee currently includes Trevor Aldred, Phil, Peter Geary, Debbie Hall, Colin Rodden and Ben, and there were no changes. The HR Committee’s Jane Varley decided to leave while Colin nominated himself to join. The Olney Centre Management Committee, the Olney Development Group, Planning Committee and Recs and Services Committee all remained the same.
There were no appointments of any new committees so the agenda moved on to the review and adoption of Standing Orders. Ben suggested that, as the current Standing Orders might be out of date, the council should accept them now with a view to reviewing them and bringing them back for adoption at the council’s July meeting.
Jane Varley asked if the whole committee could get involved with that and Ben said that a working group should do it. Peter Geary said that the recommendations that were being made for changes and those things that were up for discussion for change, should be explained, as that would cut down a huge amount of time for other council members.
No issues could be seen in terms of the review and adoption of Financial Regulations apart from bank signatories which would be dealt with later.
Review of representation on or work with external bodies: Councillors make themselves available to sit on other bodies, such as charities. Chris Tennant volunteered to take a place on the Ann Hopkins Smith Almshouses Charity, Trevor Aldred and Dan Rowland volunteered themselves to help with the Cowper & Newton Museum, Deirdre Bethune volunteered for PLUG ([Emberton] Park Liaison Users Group), Debbie Whitworth for the Olney Ward Forum and Ben Brown put himself forward for Milton Keynes Association of Local Councils.
Ian Stokes volunteered for the Olney Pre-School, and Debbie Hall said she would be the link between the council and Olney Senior Citizens. It was agreed that nobody from the council has sat on the Olney Chamber of Trade for some time, and the Clerk said the Parishes Forum was one for the Milton Keynes Council to deal with. Peter Geary said that was relatively important because it dealt with matters that aff ected all parishes. Ben and Debbie Whitworth agreed to be the points of contact for that. For the Wind Farm Fund Committee, former Councillor Mike Hughes has in the past attended on behalf of OTC. It was proposed that he be asked to continue in this role. Keyholders were confi rmed as Phil, Deirdre and Naomi with Naomi and Deirdre as emergency contacts.
For inventory of land, buildings and equipment, Ben said this was postponed last year and put under review while the assets were inspected and he proposed the same was done this year. Last year that work was done by the Recs and Services Committee. Ian Stokes asked if the work could be broken down into sub-sections within the assets. Ben wondered if two months (up to July’s meeting) was long enough to carry out the reviews but it was agreed that the Clerk would coordinate the various reviews in time for July.
Reviews of arrangements for insurance cover, staff subscriptions, the Council’s complaints procedures, and the Council’s freedom of information and data protection legislation brought no objections. The policy for dealing with the media should be combined with a policy for dealing with social media said Jane Varley and that was agreed.
There were no amendments to the Council employment policies while the review of the Council’s expenditure incurred under section 137 of the local Government Act (which concerns donations to charity) should be looked at said Peter Geary, to make sure the Council is complying with it.
The fi rst Monday of the month at 7pm is the agreed time for OTC meetings. Can that stay the same, asked Ben. Peter said 7.30pm used to be the normal time which was more convenient for those councillors who have a daytime job. Some councillors didn’t agree with this though, saying 7pm was more convenient, and it was agreed that the start time would remain the same. Approve the schedule of payments: This concerns the rates the council charges each year for buildings such as the Olney Centre and the East Street building. Ian Stokes wondered how there was a fi xed fee for electricity charges at these premises when the Council doesn’t know what the bill is, adding that the bill will have gone up by 60% over last year.
Ben suggested that they adopt and approve the schedule of charges, notwithstanding a review that is going on concerning the East Street building, and this was agreed.
The next point on the agenda was the AGAR (Annual Governing Accountability Return) which Ben said they could not do that evening but he could supply a timeline of what was happening. The end of year internal audit would happen mid-May, the end of year audit report would be signed off on 6th June (the next OTC meeting), when certifying of the accounts would also take place. There will be an extraordinary fi nance committee meeting before 6th June.
The council needs bank signatories. Currently these are Ben Brown and Phil Geach, as former Mayor. For continuity, said Ben, they would need another signatory to take the place of Phil and that should be the Chair of Finance. But as Ben is currently the Chair of Finance it was agreed that another signatory would be required. Clerk Jane Brushwood was suggested, as was another member from the Finance Committee and, as the Clerk suggested, would it be sensible to have the new Deputy Mayor also listed as a signatory? This was agreed and Debbie Whitworth was added to the signatories list.
CCTV quotes for the Recreation Ground and East Street car park: The Clerk said there were no quotes yet. But I can assure you, she added, my offi ce will get some.
Jane Varley said the Council had not determined what they were trying to achieve with CCTV. Do we want CCTV, she asked, and what will it achieve? Colin Rodden said they are trying to reduce anti-social behaviour at the Rec while Naomi added that it has become an on-going issue. Almost every evening there is vandalism at the Rec she added.
But what will CCTV prevent do you think, Jane continued to probe. Do we want to say we’ll have a monitoring service, she asked, adding that there is no electricity supply for the cameras and it hasn’t been budgeted for. Ian Stokes said he has some experience of this because of his involvement with the town’s Colts football club. They have involved the police and security fi rms in the past and, although CCTV fi lm is not enough to prosecute, the police say that CCTV was a deterrent to signifi cantly reduce crime. They also say a monitoring service is worth having because the police ‘just don’t come out to Olney’. He said crime had become more regular and ‘more aggressive’. We know security guards have been challenged with dogs for example, said Ian. There have been fi res in the stand and dugouts and they fi nd smashed glass regularly. If we do nothing it’s negligent, he added. If cameras can cover the car park, the access road and the rear of the Colts club it would be useful.
Jane said that’s a good start as ‘we need to know where the issues are occurring so we can decide where we want any cameras sited’. She said she would rather see personal patrols out there rather than relying on CCTV but it was pointed out that this would be even more expensive. Naomi said the Council has got to be proactive and sort this out. Let’s be seen to be doing something, she implored.
Ben suggested they go ahead and get quotes and Ian added that once the quotes were in, the Council should write its own specifi cation and then ask the security fi rms to re-quote against that spec. He added that any fi lming should be of good enough quality that perhaps can be used in court as evidence.
The Clerk said that without a plan in place she had made inquiries about security at the car park, the MUGA (Multi Use Games Area) and the access road. Start high and come down to what we can aff ord, she suggested. Colin asked if the Rec would put up some money too if the system was upgraded. Ian said there was a case for charging a fee for parking in the East Street car park during private events. It’s a revenue opportunity that we have not been using, he added. Naomi asked if the police would give recommendations on CCTV equipment but Clerk Jane said they wouldn’t. It was agreed that Jane would meet with security companies while Naomi off ered to talk to Crime Prevention Offi cers.
The next meeting will be held on Monday 6th June at 7pm in the Olney Centre. If you would like to contribute to the Public Participation section at the start of the meeting, contact the Town Clerk: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mercury was unable to attend an extraordinary meeting of OTC held at the Olney Centre on 27th April, to discuss proposals for the Jubilee event. It was agreed that schools will participate in baking and painting, bunting would be left up for the summer, and additional bins were required. A Picnic in the Park event, beacon lighting, and the fl ying of flags used in the Christmas tree brackets, were all mentioned as ideas. Hanging baskets will be put up before the Jubilee week.
Naomi Brock proposed that the same security fi rms be employed as last year, Friday evenings, Saturday and Sunday, starting at the Jubilee weekend until mid-September and that CCTV be investigated.
Mayor Opens Meeting
Recently elected Mayor Ben Brown welcomed the audience of 25 members of the public and councillors to the meeting, explaining that it would be very different to the meeting held last year online, due to Covid restrictions.
Olney Development Group Report
On behalf of the Olney Development Group (ODG) Chris Tennant gave the first committee report explaining that the role of the group was to monitor and review the implementation of the neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) responding to changes in national and Milton Keynes Council (MKC) policies, plus liaising with local businesses, schools, healthcare providers and others to enhance the social and community infrastructure and environment by use of the Section 106 funds received from developers.
He gave a short update on the sites identified in the ONP (Olney Neighbourhood Plan)
Lavendon Road (site A). A 50 house development is progressing well with occupation, including affordable homes underway.
Warrington Road (Olney Park, site B). New offices, warehouses and 66 bed care home is underway and OTC is currently liaising with MKC and the developers for a potential new Aldi supermarket.
Osier Way (site C), Construction of 66 houses and flats is underway with many occupied.
Yardley Manor (sites D and E). Construction of 250 homes, including 75 affordable properties for rent or shared ownership of which 10% are allocated through the Local Connections policy.
East St Community Centre or Youth Club (site H). Site H is earmarked for a new health and community hub and negotiations continue with the various partied involved, including Cobbs Garden Surgery. It appears that a decision has been made to refurbish the existing community building, rather than demolish it and build a new facility, as originally proposed.
Site R is the Sainsbury’s site (now open) and the McCarthy and Stone retirement village, the latter of which is in contravention of the NDP, but for which the developers successfully appealed against planning refusal.
Site S is Stilebrook Road Industrial area where three new warehouses have been completed and the rest of the site is safeguarded for employment use.
The new council have commenced the five year review of the ONP to reflect changes of site allocation and planning policy.
Ben Brown presented the finance report, as Chair of Finance. He said the council had faced a difficult year with the income from the precept almost being wiped out and reserves having to be drawn upon very early on. Building a budget in normal times was difficult enough but almost impossible in the middle of a pandemic. The year had ended with a surplus of nearly £52,000, since income from bookings and markets returned quicker than anticipated.
The council had made a number of grants including to the Rugby Club for new changing rooms, to the church for Amazing Grace 250 celebrations, and to Ousedale School for the 5G all-weather surface.
Olney Centre Management, HR and Dickens of a Christmas Committees Reports
Deirdre Bethune gave a combined report for the Olney Centre Management, HR, and Dickens of a Christmas Committees. The council had called upon former Deputy Clerk Jane Brushwood to help during this period and following a competitive recruitment process Jane had been appointed Town Clerk.
The full report of this special meeting appears on our website [appears below]:
Opening the Meeting:
Recently elected Mayor Ben Brown welcomed the audience of 25 members of the public and councillors to the meeting, explaining that it would be very different to the meeting held last year online, due to Covid restrictions.
Olney Development Group Report
On behalf of the Olney Development Group (ODG) Chris Tennant gave the first committee report explaining that the role of the group was to monitor and review the implementation of the neighbourhood Development Plan (NDP) responding to changes in national and Milton Keynes Council (MKC) policies, plus liaising with local businesses, schools, healthcare providers and others to enhance the social and community infrastructure and environment by use of the Section 106 funds received from developers. He gave a short update on the sites identified in the ONP.
Lavendon Road (site A) 50 house development is progressing well with occupation, including affordable homes underway.
Warrington Road (Olney Park, site B) for new offices, warehouses and 66 bed care home is underway and OTC is currently liaising with MKC and the developers for a potential new Aldi supermarket.
A member of the public later noted that despite the overwhelming public support for the building of Sainsbury’s, MKC had initially refused planning permission and hoped that the same would not occur for the proposed Aldi.
Chris responded that there is ‘latent demand’ for retail capacity and spend in the town, but there is a paradox in that the neither the outline planning permission granted by MKC for site B or the NDP allocate that site for retail, so although OTC supports the principle of more retail it could not support the plan in totality.
Mercury notes that the same developer who claimed there was insufficient support for additional retail on the Sainbury’s site, and successfully overruled the NDP and MKC planning refusal to build the new McCarthy and Stone residential homes at a public enquiry during Covid, now finds that there is sufficient demand to build an Aldi on the other side of the road. Money talks? You decide…
Osier Way (site C), construction of 66 houses and flats is underway with many occupied.
Yardley Manor (sites D and E), construction of 250 homes, including 75 affordable properties for rent or shared ownership of which 10% are allocated through the Local Connections policy. This initiative was championed by former mayor Phil Geach. Regular meetings take place between OTC, MKC, the developers, and two local residents. The ODG continues to liaise with the developers on the design of the community building which they are obliged to deliver before the 125th dwelling is occupied early next year.
The site of the East St Community Centre or Youth Club (site H) is earmarked for a new health and community hub and negotiations continue with the various partied involved, including Cobbs Garden Surgery.
It appears that a decision has been made to refurbish the existing community building, rather than demolish it and build a new facility, as originally proposed.
Chris was later asked about the timeframe for this, as Cobbs Garden Surgery appears to be struggling to meet demand now and would not be able to cope with the demand generated by the new houses, particularly the retirement homes.
A long discussion took place and Chris said MKC has allocated £750K of Section 106 funding, appointed a Project Manager and agreed a land transfer deal in principle. It had always been recognised that the new developments would need to have social infrastructure improvements running in parallel but currently there is a time-lag.
A member of the public asked if Cobbs Garden Dental Practice would be relocating to the new hub, as suggested at a previous OTC meeting. Was it right that a private practice that does not accept HNS patients should reside in a publicly funded building? Chris said that OTC agreed, and the dental practice may be reconsidering its view on accepting NHS patients.
Site R is the Sainsbury’s site (now open) and the McCarthy and Stone retirement village, the latter of which is in contravention of the NDP, but for which the developers successfully appealed against planning refusal.
Site S is Stilebrook Road Industrial area where three new warehouses have been completed and the rest of the site is safeguarded for employment use.
Five Year Review of the ONP
The new council have commenced the five year review of the ONP to reflect changes of site allocation and planning policy. Other projects include the new full sized Astroturf pitch at Ousedale campus, replacement of the surface of the Multi-Use Games Area (MUGA) at the recreation ground, a skate park, repair and refurbishment of the former Football Club building (which will be subject to public consultation), regeneration of the Market Place, enhancement of OTC’s own buildings as part of drive to become carbon neutral by 2030, allotment enhancements, installation of new cycle stands, enhancements to East Street (Rugby Club) car park, and enhancements to play areas.
A question was asked if it is possible for OTC to have any influence over the carbon neutrality of new houses being built and the refurbishment of the East Street Community Centre.
Chris answered that the current building work complies with existing building regulations, but new and more stringent standards will come into effect in June this year. However, the final decision on planning policy rests with MKC. As regards the East Street Community Centre, he said the building is ‘of it’s time’ and the best thing that OTC can do is to influence such things as the upgrade of the heating and insulation. He said OTC would push for the new community building at Yardley Manor to be built according to the new standards that will be in place when building commences, not when planning permission was granted as suggested by the developers.
Ben Brown presented the finance report, as Chair of Finance. He said the council had faced a difficult year with the income from the precept almost being wiped out and reserves having to be drawn upon very early on. Building a budget in normal times was difficult enough but almost impossible in the middle of a pandemic. However, the previous council had set a good budget which had steered the new council through a difficult period and this year the finance committee had been able to build on this good work.
The year had ended with a surplus of nearly £52k, since income from bookings and markets returned quicker than anticipated. The surplus had been added to the reserve funds which had enabled the council to exceed the target of reserves being 35% of expenditure two years ahead of expectations.
Ben said he understood that reserves can be a divisive subject, but his view is that reserves exist to protect the council’s future and the past two years had shown that they need to be prepared for unexpected events. He agreed that OTC need to be more dynamic with their reserves and ensure that they are fit for purpose and used when necessary.
The precept increase had been maintained below inflation at 3.4%. The council had made a number of grants including to the Rugby Club for new changing rooms, to the church for Amazing Grace 250 celebrations, and to Ousedale School for the 5G all-weather surface.
Ben was asked about the size of grants available and said that it varied from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds. The maximum is £10k but it is usually nearer £3k and application forms are available from the council office. He thanked all the OTC staff and particularly former Deputy Clerk Sarah for her attention to finance and the significant improvements noted in the recent audit.
Olney Centre Management, HR and Dickens of a Christmas Committee Reports
Deirdre Bethune gave a combined report for the Olney Centre Management, HR, and Dickens of a Christmas Committees. She said the new council had ‘lost the plot’ very early in its tenure which had created a great deal of work for former deputy clerk Sarah Kennedy who had been left on her own in the office as the council attempted to recover from the pandemic and had done an awesome job. Unfortunately, she had now moved on but has maintained contact and continues to provide assistance.
During the time that Sarah was acting clerk the council had employed Laura on a temporary basis, who was now a permanent member of staff. The council had called upon former Deputy Clerk Jane Brushwood to help during this period and following a competitive recruitment process Jane had been appointed Town Clerk.
The Olney Centre had been closed during Covid and the caretaking and cleaning contracts had not been renewed so staff and councillors came in to open up. Initially hirers had been reluctant to return but now things have picked up and a cleaner and caretaker had been appointed. A quieter Dickens had been organised last year.
Planning Committee Report
Trevor Aldred presented the Planning Committee report. MKC are the Planning Authority and OTC participate in the consultation process, having no actual powers. They can support, object, or pass no comment. Objections can only be justified on planning policy grounds such as non-compliance with the NDP.
The MKC planning portal exists to allow viewing of and commenting on planning applications, but it is not very user friendly so Trevor said he has prepared a user guide for anyone who wishes to use it. It is possible to email MKC so that a member of staff enters the comments on the portal, but he said there appeared to be little Quality Assurance of that process, so it is better for residents to enter comments themselves.
Social media comments were unlikely to influence decisions, he said. Of the 150 applications considered in the last year 20% were supported, 15% objected and the rest ‘no comment’.
Some applications which OTC have objected to have been overruled and supported by MKC but none of those supported have been objected to by MKC. The Planning Committee had assisted a resident in an Enforcement Order. [The full report is available below]
OLNEY TOWN COUNCIL
REPORT TO THE TOWN MEETING - 20th MAY 2022
FROM THE OTC PLANNING COMMITTEE
Summary of Activities for the Past Year
Newport Pagnell & Olney Lions Club (CIO)
Registered Charity Number 1184025
REPORT TO THE OTC TOWN MEETING - 20th MAY 2022