Chairman’s report to the 2019 Annual Village Meeting on 1 April

The Chairman of Castlethorpe Parish Council, Councillor Philip Ayles, reported on the past year in village to residents at the Annual Village Meeting in the Village Hall on Monday 9 April. This is the report in full.

The council year which has just ended has been quite remarkable for the number of improvements and achievements for the good of the village that we have been able to make.

For smaller children, the play area behind Thrupp Close and Bullington End Road has had a number of new climbing, balancing and play pieces added. For our youths, a new zip wire had been added to the Fishponds play area which had a previous makeover with lots of new equipment a few years ago.

And for older youths (over 14) and adults, we have outdoor gym equipment installed at the sports ground which is free to use on a first come, first served basis.

The sports ground has received two other upgrades. The parking area has been extended through a grant from Calor Gas which was competitive and thank you to all villagers who went online to give their support which won us the grant.

At the Lodge Farm Court end, there is an area behind the football pavilion called the ‘wildlife area’. This has been badly overgrown for many years but, thanks to the help from a resident, Sharron Clegg who is a professional landscape designer, the area has been tidied and sown with wild flowers and some logs for sitting installed. The area will mostly be allowed to grow back hopefully with wild flowers, but paths and an open area will be kept mown.

The village green opposite the Carrington will also be planted out and new benches were installed and the information plaque reprinted and relocated. Following the village survey, the parish council is intending to take over grass cutting and hedge trimming from MKC next year and we are currently having exploratory discussions with Hanslope Parish Council for a joint service.

Unfortunately, there has been some minor vandalism at the sports ground and the parish council is evaluating installing CCTV as they have at Hanslope. On the subject of crime, the parish council did purchase some Smartwater kits and some are still available from the Clerk. It appears that the villages seem to be targeted by gangs who do a series of burglaries and then move on. Please remain vigilant.

We continue to use the Speed Indicator which records speeds and which we share with Haversham. ANPR cameras were bought by the Parish Council and have been handed over to the police for ongoing operational use. Speeds at the entrances continue to be higher than they should be with a key ‘average’ indicator around 35mph. Our new PCSO, Dave Huckle, has arranged for speed guns to be deployed (and several vehicles were ticketed in Hanslope Road) and our new Special Constable is also speed gun trained. Dave organised three public meetings at the end of 2018 but, excluding parish councillors who turned up, less than 10 residents in total attended. I would ask you support our PCSO – at times, we desperately need their support. The parish council has applied for North Street to have a 20mph limit (there are strict criteria which stop this being applied to the whole village) and we also arranged a visit from the new MKC Road Safety Officer though we are disappointed with his recommendations.

A lot of work has been done with MKC Highways. In particular, we have been trying to progress the installation of the new heritage streetlights in the conservation area which were ordered over a year ago but incorrect (too high) columns were installed and have to be replaced. Shields will be fitted at the back for residents who request it to limit light intrusion into their homes. We have been trying to get the verges repaired in Fox Covert Lane where large vehicles regularly damage the grass. We have asked for the school parking area to be resurfaced but MKC have refused as it is not bad enough which we will appeal. We have asked for the parking area in Station Road to be ‘re-stoned’ and this is being considered for their programme of works. However, our complaints about the footway (pavement) in North Street have resulted in resurfacing though this has caused problems with diversion of the bus service with completion now targeted for 12th April.

Fortunately, the threat to the No 33 bus service was lifted at the last minute when Northants CC found some funding which protected the service to Northampton though the service from Hanslope to MK City Centre was never under threat. The parish council worked with the councils at Hanslope, Hartwell and Haversham and thank you to those villagers who responded to the bus use survey

We have installed new heritage style litter bins in the conservation area. There is an issue that MKC only empties rural litter bins such as ours every 8 weeks which is totally inadequate. The parish council has attempted to buy extra emptying but the contract with SERCO is punitive and the cost is not one that the parish council feels would be a good use of public money. We are therefore relying on reporting full bins and MKC will then come and empty them on an ad hoc basis. I have noticed the bin opposite the village hall in particular seems to get filled with what looks like household waste. Please use your household black bags for this as MKC will only come out so often.

The commemoration of Remembrance Day had an excellent turnout of villagers to pay their respects at the morning service at the War Memorial and later at the lighting of a beacon on Castle Field with refreshments and a WWI film show afterwards at the village hall.

As you know, Castlethorpe has a Neighbourhood Plan which has meant that we have not been affected directly in Castlethorpe by unwanted planning permissions as has happened at Hanslope. Furthermore, Milton Keynes has re-established its housing land supply so we are not immediately at risk. However, the housing land supply is a fragile calculation and so we are doing an update to our Neighbourhood Plan to maintain its protection. The latest advice from MKC is that we do NOT have to allocate more land for housing to do the update. We are concerned about this advice but will proceed without new land being allocated unless we are told by the external Examiner that we must do so to qualify for a further two years’ protection.

The parish council does not decide planning applications but we are a statutory consultee to MKC and have a number of rights which have just been reaffirmed. We would encourage applicants to consult with the Parish Council as it may save time and money for them.

Parish Councils, like almost every organisation, had to deal with GDPR in May. As a result, councillors are now separating their council from other emails and have new addresses which have been published in the News. We are also developing a new website with the help of Matt Daniels who is a website professional.

I should say that all the improvements I have listed have been largely funded by grants or S106 (planning gain) and have not been taken from our day to day budget or precept. Of the £61,000 we spent this year, only £5,000 came from our own reserves. We were particularly pleased that we were able to build our budget for the coming year without the need to increase the precept per household, the first time I can remember this happening.

I would like to thank the Clerk and councillors and villagers who have helped us. These improvements take a lot of work especially when we have to assemble funding packages from grants and then run competitive tenders and dealing with MKC is extremely time consuming and often frustrating. Nonetheless, it is very rewarding to look around and see the tangible results of our efforts. We have parish council elections in May and the deadline for nominations for councillor is this coming Friday, 4th April. If you think you might be interested in helping make the village a nicer place for us all to live, please give the Clerk, Steve Bradbury a call and he will give you the paperwork to fill in.

Philip Ayles
Chairman, Castlethorpe Parish Council