Annual Parsh Assembly Minutes 14/04/2009

 

PENSHURST PARISH COUNCIL
 
Minutes of Annual Parish Assembly held Tuesday 14 April 2009 at 7. 30 pm in Fordcombe Village Hall
 
1. Apologies: Mr R Dungate (Fordcombe Village School), Mrs E Divall
 
2. Minutes of the Meeting held on 14 April 2008, it was proposed by Cllr Frederick and seconded by Cllr Mrs Broad that these be approved and signed by the Chairman.
 
3. Chairman’s Report:   Cllr Colin Viccars –
Strong similarities between this report and those of the past reflects that The Parish Council’s range of responsibilities remain much the same as in prior years and its agenda features what seems to be perennial themes.
   
In last year’s report I noted the ambition and enthusiasm of the newer Council Members; this I feel in the light of a further year’s experience has changed to become more like gritty determination to better the quality of some services we receive and of sorely tried patience with the slow pace of progress of some of these. 
I know I can speak on behalf of all the Council to express our appreciation of the efficient and reliable work our Clerk, Mrs Divall has again provided through the year and also to wish her a speedy recovery from her present illness.
  
I also thank the Council Members for their commitment and positive contributions during the year, and as I mentioned, their resolve, despite frustrations, to press for improvements for our community.
  
In October Terri Scott resigned from the Council.    She had been involved with many aspects of village life and was a very active Councillor for Penshurst. Moving away from the village she left a vacancy and in
February, after due process we were pleased to welcome Andrew Campbell as a new Penshurst Council Member. 
Planning applications within the Parish require consideration and responses by the Council, this takes up considerable time both for site visits and in our monthly meetings. The total of 45 was 5 higher than the previous year, plus on average one or two tree works applications to review per month. 
The maintenance and safety of our roads and highways remains significant on our agenda. Our hopes for recognition and positive action were raised by the presence at last year’s Annual Assembly of the Chairman of the Kent Highways Board, Mr Roger Manning who offered to return to discuss the matters then raised.
This he did at our 30th July meeting. Mr Manning left us on that occasion with the assurance his planned re-organisation of Kent Highways would produce improvements to the service he said we were right to expect, and our specific agenda was in his hands to deal with.   We heard a month or two later that Mr Manning was no longer in that post and our raised hopes for progress largely went with him.
This seems to echo the Parish Council’s experience on topics such as road gully emptying; the repair of a collapsed culvert at Nashes Farm; the safety issues at the junction of High Street Penshurst and Leigh Road and other matters that by initial dialogue with officers raise the hope of positive action, then to see delay or to be kicked into the long grass for want of funds or lengthy consideration. 
In consequence a good number of these matters are still ongoing but will I believe remain in the Council’s sights to resolve, even when necessary by our direct action or the Parish’s expense.  
The Parish Council’s activities are funded by the precept, part of your Council Tax. Some of this money supports its legal obligations; such as churchyard maintenance, the remainder is to pay for the tasks decided on by the Parish Council.
The precept for the year 2008/9 was £20,300 and for the year ahead with a small increase at £20,810        
Of this there is was a contingency of £2,500 towards the cost of replacement of play equipment at Fordcombe Playground.    We were aware by last year’s ROSPA safety report that the equipment would soon reach a point of being beyond economic repair and require replacement.   The full cost of this would be well beyond the Parish’s Council’s ability to fund.
To explore sources of grant funding to support this cost Parish Councillors have formed a working group chaired by Cllr Mike Gilbert that has representation from parents and interested parties in the village. This is making good progress in establishing its credentials to attract a major grant.
During the year the Council committed funds to: additional road verge cutting for road safety reasons;
improving the safety of the brick pavement in Penshurst; providing hard-standing at a Penshurst bus stop;
additional and replacement timber bollards to the green at Fordcombe; repairs to the play equipment at Fordcombe playground; a donation the cost of producing village magazines; improvement work at both the Bottle House allotments removing trees and Warren allotments, with new fencing and a contribution towards the repair of Fordcombe Village Hall roof.   The failure to attract an applicant as a Lengthsman for Fordcombe was partially compensated by engaging a contractor for weed control treatments.
A privately sponsored housing needs survey was conducted that failed to satisfy the District Council.
None the less this prompted the Parish Council to explore the requirement and then commission an independent survey to establish the level of social housing need. The results reported in March identified a need of 5 properties, consistent with earlier surveys, and for a mixture of one and two bedroom units. Affordable rental was preferred to shared ownership. The Housing Enabler will now explore possible options for sites and report further.
An unwelcome sign of the times and perhaps the start of a trend is the recent proposal by Sevenoaks District to cease maintenance of the public toilets in Penshurst leaving the choice by the Parish Council to pick up the bill or see this amenity closed.
Similarly, we hear unofficially that the attendance at the villages of the refuse truck every six weeks or so has ceased though no formal notice has been given to the Parish Council. If this proves to be true it will be another service by District lost to us.
It is perhaps too easy to dwell on the negative issues and I should finish by noting that our community remains a relatively safe, attractive and friendly place to live, with excellent schools and I believe that the activities of the Parish Council in the year has contributed positively towards this continuing into the future. 
4. Retreat Charity:    A written report was provided which indicated that maintenance and repairs had been undertaken to the two properties.   A hand rail had been erected to assist residents, a garden door and fence had been replaced, a dangerous radiator moved and major repairs had been undertaken to the front garden wall after a car had crashed through earlier in the year.   Complete clearance of one of the gardens was being arranged as it had deteriorated badly.
Mrs Christine Rose had joined as a new Trustee, having taken over from Mrs Vivien Davy who had resigned.
One of the properties was not available for letting, redecoration would be undertaken with new carpets and floor coverings being provided as well as a refit of the kitchen.   Accounts for the Charity were provided.
 
5. Penshurst School Governor’s Report: Mr Peter Johnson reported on behalf of the school:
The school’s Ofsted inspection had recognised the school’s excellent work in awarding outstanding grades for most of the areas under inspection, the introductory paragraph of the 2009 report stating ‘Penshurst Church of England Primary School is an outstanding school’, it also recorded that despite its exceptional academic track record, there is no hint of complacency in the school.   Although the subjects considered in the Ofsted Report are an important aspect of the procedure, other activities which widen the pupils’ experience and learning had also been an important factor.   The reported praised the positive ethos of the school and the fact that the pupils were made to feel safe and secure.
Among the visit during the year had been trips to Druzillas Zoo, Tonbridge and Bodiam castles, Seven Sisters Country Park, the Imperial War Museum, Canterbury Cathedral, Mickleham Priory and the Assembly Hall to see Romeo and Juliet.
Other activities enjoyed by the children were French lessons, music classes with many and varied instruments, the school choir, drama and musical concerts on the new open air stage, karate classes, netball, dancing, tag rugby, judo, cricket and a fishing competition.   Some of the children are helping to produce the Small Schools Express Newspaper.   Neighbourhood Watch road safety awards were won by two children for devising and presenting two road safety posters in a competition with other schools and years five and six acted as hosts to the Friends of the School, improving their confidence when dealing with grownups not part of their family.
Maintenance work during the year has included redecoration to the entrance and boys’ toilets and the school office.   Computers have been replaced and new taps installed in the girls’ toilets.   The external open air classroom floor has been re-levelled and painted and drainage provided across the front playground, new school signage has also been introduced.
The School Governors consider that the school provides an excellent education and prepares the children for their next school and that the school is fortunate in having an excellent Headteacher leading a team of teachers and assistants together with support staff who all perform their work in a truly outstanding manner as recognised by the Ofsted report.
6. Fordcombe School Governor’s Report:  Mr Crabbe provided the following report prepared by Nick Weaver, Chairman of Governors:
The school had recently undergone another Ofsted inspection, the inspectors being pleased with the progress made since their last visit.   More aspects of the school were judged to be outstanding, the overall summary was ‘good with outstanding features’.   Subsequent to the Ofsted visit the diocesan inspector also visited to assess the school’s effectiveness as a Church of England School, again the school was judged to be ‘good’ overall with some ‘outstanding’ features.   The school completed the academic year with strong key sage two SATs results, being ranked as fifteenth in Kent under the Daily Telegraph Primary League Tables.
Two members of staff left during the year, one for promotion and one for retirement; Mr Anderton was appointed to teach Year 5/6 to replace Miss Bainbridge and Mrs Maslin was appointed to teach music and French to replace Mrs Harris.   Two members of the administration team left at Christmas and many years of highly dedicated service, Mrs Bassi and Mrs White; their positions have been filled by Mrs Howard, Mrs Cogger and Mrs Tucker.
There are 101 pupils on roll, there being four spare spaces.   Fifteen children are expected in September.   Five children were successful in passing the 11+, the allocation of secondary places has caused problems for some of the children with a number of parents appealing for places in secondary schools.   The school achieved the Financial Management Standard in Schools required by the DfES and the school has retained the Eco School status for its environmental work, the school being one of a very limited number to gain the award for a fourth time.
The children have attended church to mark the Christmas and Easter celebrations with the monthly family services also being popular, the school appreciates the support of Rev. Holme.
The school has thirteen extra curricular clubs and activities run by volunteer staff and parents, the netball and football teams have played well and the school now looks forward to the cricket, rounders, tag rugby and cross country tournaments.
Trips undertaken have included the Tunbridge Wells Toy Museum, Brighton Herstmonceux Observatory and Science Centre, Fishbourne Roman Villa at Chichester and the British and Natural History Museums, a residential course at Carroty Wood is planned for the end of the summer term.  
A planning application has been submitted to erect a timber shelter in memory of Kieran Howard, the children are considering how to name and mark the shelter.
The continued success of the school is a testament to the hard work and dedication of the staff, the support of the parents and the enthusiasm of the children.
 
7. District Councillor’s Report:No report.     
 
8. County Councillor’s Report:    KCCllr Peter Lake –
KCC has set an increase in Council Tax of just 2.44%. This is the smallest increase but never the less we would have liked to have made it lower still but there is increasing demand for our services, local priorities and increasing legislation. 
There is much talk of Iceland but KCC has £500 million on deposit at any one time with more than 30 different banks – this is working capital and money from Central Government. We employ professional advisors and we believe we acted in good faith. As a result we continue to seek the return of our money along with 120 other Councils. Perhaps it is interesting to note that the Audit Commission had some £10 million deposited in Iceland.
Education remains at the heart of our business as a County Council. 67% of Kent’s pupils achieved 5 GCSEs at grades A* – C last year (65% nationally). In these very difficult times and with unemployment climbing we seek to expand vocational education and apprenticeships. During the year, I have visited all the schools in my constituency in connection with the Eco-Schools programme. I find our schools in very good order and achieving excellent results but there is always more to do – both the curriculum and the general fabric of the schools need to be kept up to date. 
From June of this year, all 11-16 year olds will be able to obtain the Kent Freedom Pass, but I continue to campaign to have it extended to 18 year olds.
Kent Highways has rightly come in for much criticism. There have been dramatic changes at the top of the organisation but I believe we now have a first class team in post in West Kent. As a County Councillor, for the first time, I will have £25000 to spend on road improvements suggested by local people, and this is in addition to my normal £10000 grant funding. In response to criticism, we have increased the maintenance gangs from 22-24 and doubled the machines used to clear our drains and taken delivery of a ‘super sucker’ to clear out soakaways. We have come through one of the worst winters in living memory but there can be no excuse for poor roads and I will spend highway’s money in the constituency with the help of the Parish Council. We all want to reduce the speed of traffic along our country roads and this again will be a main theme in the coming year.
As your KCC representative, and particularly at this time of year, I deal with education problems – getting children to the school of their choice. I represent parishioners on many issues including Adult Social Services, Health, Crime and the Environment. With the elderly, I help to find the appropriate care, whether this be in their own home, a Care Home or Nursing Home environment.
I believe that KCC has delivered not just great value but the strongest leadership in these difficult times. As Chairman of the County Council, I have made nearly 300 meetings and visits over and above my normal duties and it is interesting to see how other parts of Kent compare with West Kent. I would love to see more affordable housing in our villages and more facilities for the young in my constituency.
I would like to thank the Chairman, Councillors and your Clerk for their patience in helping to deal with the various issues in the past year – I remain determined to work with you all in the coming year.
 
9. Community Police Officer:     PC Ingram requested the email addresses of the councillors to improve communication.   He spoke on the lowered crime figures which showed a 38.2%drop in crime generally during the last twelve months.    Burglary had reduced by 56%, vehicle crime by 70.8% and violence against the person by 50% – there had been no change in anti social behaviour or robbery figures.   Cllr Geal raised the issue of speeding in the parish, PC Ingram would be utilising a new speed gun in the village, particularly near to school.    KCCllr Lake asked for members views on the provision of a community warden, it was agreed they preferred to retain the services of the current PCSO. 
 
Comments from the Meeting:
D Geal:   The question of the quality of apprentice training at the West Kent College was raised, Cllr Lake would raise this with Paul Carter
 
C Viccars:   The issue of Superannuation and Icelandic bank losses was raised, Cllr Lake advised that a tri-annual meeting was scheduled for 2010 and that both property and cash deposits were held in connection with this liability although Icelandic deposits were quite small in proportion to overall monies.
M Gilbert:   The availability of the parish portal in connection with highways was queried, Cllr Lake advised David Aspinal was confident this service would work but a number of problems still had to be dealt with prior to its launch which was not imminent.   It was felt that the parish had no prior working knowledge, or input, into ’planned work’, Cllr Lake agreed that the system should be pro-active, he also felt the working relationship with current contractors was problematic.
Cllr Lake advised members that he had an additional income of £20K to spend in the area he covered.
Meeting concluded at 9.00 pm