... Annual Report

Chair's Annual Report to the Village

The Chair of the Parish Council, Philip Ayles, issued his Annual Report to the village
at the Annual Parish Meeting on Monday 12 April, 2021. which you can read below. 

It was black humour indeed to see a birthday card which said “You’re not a year older because 2020 didn’t count”. Whilst that raised a smile, it of course doesn’t take account of the difficulties caused by loss of income, health problems both directly from Covid and appointment delays, loss of education, reduced family and social contact and self isolation.
Of course, compared to many other places, we are fortunate to live in Castlethorpe with many footpaths around the village, open spaces in Castle Field and Gobbeys field and, when permitted, a sports ground with cricket, youth football, tennis and an outdoor gym.   
Incidentally, tennis is again permitted and anyone interested can contact the Castlethorpe Sports Association for tennis membership or indeed cricket or youth football. It was also a happy coincidence that the Parish Council had recently put more equipment into both the Fishponds play area and the play area for younger children near Thrupp Close and Bullington End Road.   
We are also fortunate to have a local shop saving the need to travel for many food needs.   
Less fortunately, we had to shut the village hall and our local societies could no longer meet. I personally regret the loss of the very successful ‘Communi-teas’ which we had only started at the beginning of 2020 to create a fortnightly social occasion open to all. I look forward to it being safe enough to restart these later in the year.   
The other major casualty was the Pre-School which had run in the village for as long as I can remember. It was with great sadness that numbers had fallen to an unsustainable level and the Pre-School committee had no choice but to close it. The sale of equipment was a particularly sad day.   
A new Pre-School, Ducklings, has now started in the village hall. Particular thanks to Cllr Russell Forgham who has worked with Ducklings to bring them to Castlethorpe. Please contact Ducklings if you or people you know would like to send your children there, and we wish them every success.   
There was also a significant financial impact as the village hall is one of our largest costs and the sports ground has to be maintained, particularly the grass has to be cut. 
The Parish Council was able to find grant funding for Castlethorpe Sports Association which runs the sports ground. We were later also able to get a government grant for the village hall so financially at least, we were able to mitigate the effects of Covid on the parish for last financial year.   
The Parish Council has installed flooring, lighting and pull-down ladders in the two attics at the village hall as they are used for storage. We received a 50% grant from MKC’s Community Infrastructure Fund for which we are also very grateful.  
The Parish Council was able to continue to operate throughout the year though MKC, on which we depend for many services, was much reduced which led to some frustration. The Parish Council experimented with remote meetings and now meets via Zoom with live streaming on both Facebook and YouTube.   
The interest by residents is amazing. Whereas we normally had a handful of residents at our meetings unless there was a hot issue, we now have 50-80 viewers despite or perhaps because of Handforth! We have also temporarily put Castlethorpe News only on the website with some paper copies in the shop rather than delivering to households.   
Unfortunately and frankly stupidly, the Government has not extended the permission for councils to meet remotely beyond 6th May despite that parliament has allowed itself to continue remote meetings.   
I was so incensed that I have written to both MK MPs and the Minister and I know that the local council associations have also been lobbying for this. We have to discuss how we will respond to this and there is an item on the agenda of the council meeting which follows the Annual Parish Meeting.   
From 1st April 2020, Castlethorpe opted out of the MKC landscaping contract for grass cutting and hedge trimming within the village boundary. We worked with Hanslope to have our own contractor, RTM. 
The standard of landscaping in the village has been much improved though the maps MKC gave us showing where they cut grass and hedges were not entirely accurate but I think we now have that under control. Incidentally, the bulbs we planted two years ago on some of the verges have come out and look really beautiful this spring.   
The ‘wildlife’ area behind the football pavilion, after some professional advice and help from a resident is looking good with fine grasses and wild flowers coming through and paths cut to the log seats. Have a look if you are walking that way.   
At the sports ground, we have been given donations which the Parish Council will use to purchase two new benches and another resident paid to have some trees planted there. The Parish Council will replace the tree in the Fishponds which blew down recently and MKC will replace one that blew down some time ago though with a smaller species.   
Automatic Electronic Defibrillators (AED) have been installed at the sports ground and village hall in the bright green and yellow boxes in a project led by Cllr Darren Merritt. If you think you might need to use one, first call 999 and they will identify if you need to use an AED and give you the code to the nearest one.  
Richard Bradley, our First Responder, will provide some training when it is Covid safe to do so but you should not hesitate if asked by the 999 operator to use one,as the AEDs have clear instructions and voice guidance.   
The Parish Council, which funded these through grants from the Milton Keynes Development Partnership, and Richard will ensure that the AEDs and pads are maintained.   
A local business, Bandit Food, have suggested a monthly pop-up pub and Street Food event at the sports ground once Covid regulations permit to try and get some social activities started again in the village. The Parish Council are supportive in principle but, nearer the time, there will be discussions with neighbours.   
Despite the second lockdown, we were able to hold the annual Remembrance Sunday commemoration at the War Memorial after a last minute relaxation of the rules. 
A wreath was laid on behalf of the Borough by the Mayor, Councillor Andrew Geary, who is of course one of our Ward Councillors, and by me, as Chairman of the Parish Council, on behalf of the parish. A third wreath was laid privately by Thames Valley Police.  
It is six years since the War memorial was cleaned and the Parish Council has arranged for it to be cleaned again this Spring. 
We were very lucky to be able to put up the village Christmas lights between lockdowns but not so lucky in being able to get them down so individuals had to go separately. Thanks to Dave Hinds and his daughter for taking down the triangle lights but special thanks to Mark Evans for taking down the lights by the village hall as he went up the high ladder.   
Turning to our work with Milton Keynes Council:
● The 20mph limit was installed in March. For reasons beyond imagining, MKC decided that Maltings Field was to be outside the 20mph zone and signage was put up. Speaking to the officer, I was horrified to find that New Road, Bens Close, School Lane and arguably Maltings Court were also outside the 20mph zone and that they would be putting up signage there too.  
This isn’t really about speeding but about unnecessary signage and we did get a new Traffic Order made to include the whole area and I hope we will be able to get the unnecessary signs removed together with the ‘No HGV’ sign intended for New Road but actually pointing at Maltings Field.    
● Streetlights in much of the village were in poor condition. Even many of the heritage style lights in the conservation area were  

faded and rusty and the Parish Council has had them and those in Lodge Farm Court repainted.  
MKC are upgrading all streetlights in the Borough to LED to save energy. Castlethorpe is scheduled to be upgraded in the financial year which started on 1st April. 
We wanted to take advantage of this to improve the ‘streetscape’ by asking MKC to install more attractive streetlights. We have received and accepted a quote to upgrade the streetlights on Bullington End Road and Station Road to a heritage style as already in the Conservation Area.  
Hanslope Road already has heritage style lights as does North Street so all the entrances to the village and through routes will be in heritage style. We have also been asking for a quote to upgrade the lights in Shepperton, The Chequers and Thrupp Close but still await this. Lodge Farm Court and Maltings Field will retain their existing light styles.   
This is a once in a lifetime opportunity (certainly my lifetime as streetlights last about 40 years!) the ‘streetscape’ will improve the outlook in the village and make it a nicer place to live.   
● After a lot of effort, we did get the surface water drains cleaned in parts of North Street, South Street and Bullington End Road and this seems to have been effective surviving a particularly bad downpour earlier in the year. We are also trying to get some kerbing raised and installed in Bullington End Road, where some residents have had their garages flooded. This work has unfortunately been impacted by Covid as it was scheduled by MKC in the financial year just ended.   
● We had a heart stopping moment on public transport where we saw a threat to replace the No 33 by what is called ‘Demand Responsive Transport’ or DRT. MKC didn’t consult properly with the parishes on this decision and we challenged the decision.  
Once they did the consultation, we found it didn’t apply to the No 33 because it is jointly funded with Northants. However, it will probably move to DRT perhaps next April. At least by then any problems will have been sorted out elsewhere in MK and actually the publicity indicates that it could give us a better service. We will keep an eye on this.   
● Unfortunately, one side effect of reduced road usage is that speeds have gone up. Cllr Dave Hinds and I continue to operate the Speed Indicator Device (SID) on our allowed exercise walks and the increase is very high. 
I posted some figures from speed enforcement done on Hanslope Road recently. It was a Sunday but, in an hour, of the 28 vehicles that went through, 11 were stopped. This is a high proportion but, if anything, it is lower than the figures we record on the SID. Three were ‘given advice’ and 8 reported for excessive speed. We have a good relationship with the police and the information from the SID is shared with them so they can decide where they will enforce – obviously they don’t tell us in advance! 
We have done a lot over the years to reduce speeding including recently the 20mph zone in North Street and South Street but also the humps in North Street and the narrows at the village entrances. Councllor Dave Hinds and I continue to operate the SID.  
Probably the area where we have spent most time is in Planning.    
● Stonewater, the social housing provider, owns Maltings 2 (opposite Paddock Close) which is designated for about 30 new houses. The Neighbourhood Plan specified the design should take its cue from Paddock Close, have a mix of open market and affordable housing and the need for some planning obligation payments, for example, to help with a possible expansion of Hanslope surgery and our school. 
As a matter of interest, you may have seen that the car park at Hanslope surgery is being resurfaced. This is being done using planning obligations funding from Maltings Court / Paddock Close. 
Stonewater submitted a planning application with a different design, 100% affordable housing and no planning obligations. They took their planning application to Appeal in October. Both MKC and the Parish Council objected to the application. 
The Planning Inspector decided that their design did not contravene the design code in the Neighbourhood Plan but also that some of the matters being appealed, such as changing from 30% to 100% affordable housing and voiding the S106 (planning gain) agreement were outside the scope of his Appeal. We aren’t sure where this leaves Stonewater but they have said they will be doing the required archeological excavations shortly if you see activity on the field. 
● We had to cancel the proposed presentation on MK Futures 2050 when the first lockdown started but we did get written guidance for our area and no major development is planned that would impact us. Of course, the government recently cancelled the Oxford-Cambridge expressway which had skewed developed towards the south of MK so we will have to see if any changes are proposed. 
● MKC Conservation and Archaeology are proposing some changes to the Conservation Area as the existing area was defined before developments in Thrupp Close, Maltings Field and Manor Court. The changes were developed with the Parish Council though we have one final disagreement about an area in Lodge Farm Court and we now await their decision. 
● Our Neighbourhood Plan, which became MKC Policy in 2017, remains in force. The Neighbourhood Plan helps protect buildings by having a ‘Design Code’ to ensure new buildings and extensions are not out of place. This builds on the Design Code which is in Plan:MK and national guidelines. 
There have been a number of planning applications recently which, in the opinion of the Parish Council, contravene these planning policies and, so far, our objections have been upheld by MKC which makes the decision. It may help to save time and the cost of architects to check particularly the Plan:MK and Neighbourhood Plan design policies before submitting an application. 
However, the Parish Council sought to make a Modified Neighbourhood Plan for a number of reasons including bringing it up to date with MKC’s new Local Plan, Plan:MK, adding some further protection to some of our historic houses which are not listed by English Heritage, adding some content on Climate Change and, in the light of new evidence of usage, designating Gobbeys field as a Local Green Space which would protect it for informal recreation along with grazing in perpetuity. 
Not surprisingly, the owners have objected as they have made several planning applications for houses there in the past. The external Examiner of the Plan did not agree that it met the criteria for designation and MKC agreed with him. However, we believe that the Examiner and MKC made a number of mistakes and we have strenuously but unsuccessfully challenged that decision so the Plan will go to referendum probably in the summer without Gobbeys as an LGS. We have now exhausted MKC’s appeal processes. 
The Parish Council does not have the power to spend more than a certain limited amount of money on a legal challenge and so it will be necessary for residents to decide themselves whether they wish to fund a challenge led by a residents association. 
I would ask you, when this finally comes to referendum, to vote in favour of it, whether or not it includes Gobbeys, as the Modified Plan will help protect the village against unwanted development, including at Gobbeys, for the next two years as well as tightening the design code and protecting some of our lovely buildings. 
I close by wishing all our residents well as we cautiously emerge from a horrible year with the hope that some semblance of normality will have returned by the middle of the year. Let’s hope we can get on with our lives so that, next year, we will be able to look back without feeling that 2021 didn’t count.