Annual Chairperson’s Report 2019

Introduction

We continue to meet on Tuesdays of alternate months for regular meetings, and at various times in between as and when required for planning application considerations.

The Government and County are still enforcing cuts. In fact the cuts are so deep that the Council practically no longer exists.

Newcastle School. Ruth Gittins continues to run the school with flair and efficiency. It is now run as a federation with Bucknell and Clunbury. There is one head teacher for the three schools – and considerable collaboration between the three. There is also a joint governing body. Sadly, however, Ruth Gittins, as lead teacher, rather than headteacher, does the same job at a considerably lower salary.

SpArC. The charity is still working closely with Shropshire council to try to find a satisfactory management solution for the SpArC centre. There will be no further appeals to Parish councils until Shropshire council sorts this out.

Highways

You will all have noticed the state of our roads. We do report potholes and draw attention to what needs to be done, but funding continues to be abysmal. The effect of the state of the roads can be damage to cars through hitting them, or accidents through suddenly swerving to avoid them.”

The situation remains virtually unchanged since last year.

Finance

Precept this year was within inflation requirements  

The accounts can be made available to anyone who is interested, and are externally audited annually.

Planning

All this year’s planning applications were approved by this council.

Members of the public are sometimes present when planning applications are discussed, and their views are welcomed.

Parish Hall

The Parish Hall Committee runs the Parish Hall on behalf of the Parish Council, which acts as trustee. Yet again I should like to thank, on behalf of us all, this excellent committee of dedicated people who work hard to maintain and improve the Hall, car park, and garden. They do not meet often, as a committee, but work hard for year on year improvements and the garden improves annually. You will notice the improved state of the hall, which has been funded by some highly successful events – such as a quiz nights and a concert, as well as coffee mornings and other events throughout the year. The committee is extremely enthusiastic, and the Parish is generous in supporting all events. The benefit of Two successful bids produced generous grants from PAVO (windfarm funding)which has provided excellent windows and some tables. It also provided a large tent for Newcastle – which will be shared with Bettws.

Amblecote Cottages

 It has been a roller coaster of a year as far as these are concerned

In the parish of Bettws y Crwyn there are only four properties designated as social housing. For three years three of them were unoccupied. despite interest having been shown in purchasing or renting them. The occupants of the fourth initially refused to move but were recently ‘persuaded’ by Connexus, to move with a considerable financial incentive.

 The Parish Council expressed some concern in the previous year and was visited by Paul Sutton. He stated that the housing association wished to sell the properties. We discussed various possibilities, but were informed that, if there was sufficient local interest the properties could be sold locally through the use of sealed bits. We would have preferred a local auction, or direct sale to interested persons, but accepted his suggestion as a way forward. I received several phone calls expressing interest, as well as the letters. from  Nick and Amy Stone,  Bryony Jones and Mike Webster 

 Eventually we were contacted by Nichola Barnfield, from the housing association, Connexus, who asked whether there was a way to advertise a site meeting through a parish magazine. She sent me a poster to place in it. I did so.  The advertisement was included just before the deadline, but was rather small. I had intended to leaflet the whole area, but was suddenly admitted into hospital for an emergency operation, so was unable to do so. However, the site meeting was attended by four people, and two of those immediately put in bids for £10,000 above the guideline price.

 They were very happy. At this point one family still remained in one of the properties, which meant that there was only one more property remaining empty. We later learned of others who were interested.

 The two families who had made the offers were young. One with a young child, the other with a baby on the way. Since this area has a high population of elderly and retired people, everyone was happy that two young families, both of whom already had family connections to the area, would be contributing to the future and sustainability of the area.

 We had a letter from Bryony Jones, explaining her reasons for her wanting to purchase the property.

 Then the hopes of everyone were dashed.

Connexus decided to withdraw the offer of the cottages as separate entities, and to sell all four en bloc.

 The people who had submitted the bid were devastated. 

 If losing the homes was inevitable – we would, at least, hope that they might be available as affordable housing for local people – Indeed we had been led to believe that this would be possible.

 Now it seemed that the likelihood is that they would be bought by a developer, who might well replace them with one or two houses – no doubt at considerable profit.

 We have witnessed the local young leaving the area because of the lack of affordable housing, and people retiring to the area – driving up the cost of houses.

 As a result we have fewer and fewer young people. 

 Our rural area is not exactly a drain on Shropshire’s resources. We have no street lights, mains water and drainage or transport. It is not, we think, unreasonable to place greater value on local benefit than profit making on behalf of a housing association.

 We had young people eager to purchase these properties, and they were denied the opportunity to do so – after having had their hopes raised then dashed. 

 We were also told that Connexus would advertise the properties extensively in the locality. This did not happen. The only advertisement of which we were aware of is the one that I placed, which was published on the back page of the Parish magazine – which, as a church publication, is received by a limited number of people.

 Bryony sent a response to the letter from Connexus. She received a response that was merely a copy of the earlier one she had received. It ended with the words “ I hope this clarifies the situation, however if you need any further information please do not hesitate to contact me on 03003031190.”

 I made a number of attempts to call Mr Challinor, but he was, mysteriously, never available. After being told a number of times that my message would be passed on and I would be contacted, my calls were not returned by him. I was relayed a message from him, via telephone, that as I had written also to Philip Dunne. I must liaise with him for a response.  I found this a rather strange response. .Philip Dunne eventually wrote to me forwarding the ‘ Challinor’ letter, which Bryony had received, and which I had already forwarded to Mr Dunne! They had ignored Mr Dunne’s question asking about their future plans for social housing in Bettws. This lead us to assume that they have no plans.

At a  Parish council meeting on 13th November our clerk was instructed to write to Connexus.  This was sent on November 18th.

 On the weekend following (24th November) I learned that the cottages had been advertised for sale as one block. The sale is to take placeon Tuesday December 11th.

 On the Monday, 26th November, I contacted Connexus. I was told that nobody would discuss this with me until until their response to our clerk’s letter was sent.

By  Saturday December 8th the clerk had not received their response.

 I had waited in good faith for it, but by this time was convinced that there would  be no response until the sale was completed. My telephone call on Thursday (6th December) had received the response that no-one was available to speak to me but there was an indication that Nichola Barnfield would contact me on the following day, and the person I to whom I was speaking asked for my mobile as well as my home number.

 Nichola Barnfield did not contact me.

 Neither did anyone else.

 I had telephoned on,Friday 7th December, at 3.30 to be told that Nichola was not at her desk. This was no surprise to me. Neither was the fact that nobody contacted me at all.

The Parish council had been disregarded – and was of the opinion that it has been treated with contempt.

 At this moment we are not asking that the properties not be sold. We wished to ask, as was requested by the clerk, that there be a delay of two or three months so that there is opportunity for discussion, consultation and consideration of the democratic process and transparency.

 We felt that treatment of us had been scandalous.

I reacted by contacting the local councillor, Nigel Hartin, who was very supportive. As a result of press releases, consultation with various people in County hall and, eventually the acting chief executive of Connexus the sale was withdrawn. 

The acting CEO appointed Vivien Knibbs who contacted me. At this point there was a breakthrough, and she never failed to return my calls and we arranged a meeting with two councillors and myself. 

Following that meeting  we held a public meeting which was well attended. 

Vivien Knibbs attended that meeting an afterwards arranged a meeting with the new CEO, Richard Woolley. The clerk and I attended that meeting.

We agreed that a sale directly to four local people would be acceptable. It would be on the condition that they must sell all four at the same time – so that if one buyer dropped out the sale could not proceed on this basis. However, in that event they could hold an auction for all of them locally.

The four people would need to share responsibility for water etc., and it is suggested that they share the cost of a survey, so that a reasonable price can be agreed.

We agreed that the parish council would confirm how they would envisage this would work, bearing in mind the consortium would need to take on all responsibilities for the sewage and water.

Once a proposal had been received Connexus would seek legal advice in order to determine the feasibility of the purchase in one transaction, with the proviso that if one buyer were to drop out, the deal would no longer be viable.

It was acknowledged that there had been previous discussions with Vivien Knibbs around a date at the end of May, this for the sale to had taken place and we acknowledged that Connexus would be unable to extend it the deadline indefinitely.

 It was confirmed that the governance arrangements in Connexus would not allow for the sale to be discounted price, we agreed that that Parish Council would keep Connexus informed over the next few weeks if it was unlikely that a sale could be achieved by the end of May.

We also discussed that is the sale of the cottages through the Parish Council wasn’t achievable Connexus would you keep the parish council informed about when the cottages would be put to auction to enable local people to access the auction website. 

I have agreed to keep Richard Woolley posted on all developments, and we have until the end of May to come up with a firm plan. 

Conclusion

As always my thanks and gratitude  go to councilors and all others whose work and dedication to this parish help to make it so special.

My thanks also go to all those who are prepared to serve the community in any way, attending meetings of all the committees that work to keep this parish going, turning out in all weathers for meetings and supporting events. Come rain, wind or snow, the residents of Bettws and beyond remain undeterred in their support of events.

I am, of course, ever grateful to those volunteers who give me support and encouragement, on this council on other committees, and in the community generally. 

As always these thanks, from all of us, are extended to our Clerk, who makes council work so much easier than if we were struggling alone.

As I have said many times before, Bettws is good at getting things done. We are a small community, but a there is plenty going on. There are good groups of people (or groups of good people) who give generously in all ways, to make this such a special parish.

Valerie Whately

May 2019

Volunteers don’t get paid, not because they’re worthless, but because they’re priceless.

If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never been in bed with a mosquito.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.