Chairman’s Annual Report May 2017
Chairman Cllr. Rob Mills.
This time last year we had a vacancy for a Parish Councillor. We were pleased to appoint Kendal Golding. Kendal, along with husband Dean, is always ready to volunteer to help out with community activities.
Parishioners attending last year’s Annual Parish Meeting will remember the official launch of our defibrillator, a joint initiative with Parish Hall Trustees. We had plans to provide a second device at our phone box, but have been happy to find that the Diocese of Chichester was intending to place a machine in every church porch. Consequently St Martins is now so equipped, relieving us of the task. There are currently no indications to the public that this potentially lifesaving equipment is available, therefore we will be advising the PCC about suitable signage. Currently we have no suitable site for another defibrillator in the north of the parish.
Broadband/High Speed Internet
Central government gave us hope that everyone would be on high speed internet but did not say when.
Following much discontent amongst residents in Westmeston and adjoining parishes about inadequate Broadband facilities, Cllr. Cathy Mills, undertook to investigate. A survey of local speeds indicated large variations between localities. Discussions with BT established their plans for improvement, and whilst the process seems to be painfully slow, a new “cabinet” has been placed in Spatham Lane and now awaits the new connections. Regrettably it seems that some areas will not see much improvement while others should enjoy substantially higher speeds.
Cathy is keeping in touch with residents through e mail, and our web site. I believe that this council has done everything possible to expedite the matter and BT local management has been helpful when approached, but it is clear from news media that there are major problems at higher level between BT and Open Reach, causing failure to meet expectations. We will continue to monitor the situation and apply whatever pressure we can.
Planning applications throughout the year have been non-contentious.
The Project Management Group’s task has been complicated and protracted, demanding much time and effort. The dedication and commitment of all involved deserves recognition. Our Councillors have been active in advisory roles. It is expected that the Plan will be put to the Planning Authority very soon, be followed by a final public consultation within the next few months.
Rights of Way
Construction of the long awaited bridleway extension along Lewes Road into Streat is close to being started. This will connect the bridleway emerging from the 26 (Jubilee plantation V) to Streat Bostal. It also shares the junction with Westmeston 11 going north to Middleton Manor and, of course, Jubilee Pathway back to Church Corner and Westmeston Bostal. This has been made possible by the co-operation of the landowner. We look forward to the completion when appropriate recognition from Council and Streat Meeting can be made.
Our member for Rights of Way is in regular contact with ESCC R.O.W. Department. We had been hoping for major works on the section of Westmeston 11J leading past Middleton Manor and substantial repairs on Wapple Way. Owing to financial limitations it is unlikely to take place this year but we are pleased to report that on 11C, the 300 metre stretch leading northwards to Meadowsweet Cottage is on the schedule for badly needed resurfacing. Where possible, Rangers undertake minor repairs and clearance of obstructions. The public can report these matters directly on line to ESCC or may contact Westmeston Parish Council. Much maintenance and improvement is carried out by the skilled and industrious Monday Group and this is much appreciated.
Residents of Westmeston and Ditchling and other users of Spatham Lane continue to be concerned about the number of incidents involving damage to property and vehicles. These are mostly unreported, occurring mainly at or near two bends in the road.
These accidents/incidents/crashes have not accounted for many injuries but in a crash the difference between shock and bruises and a fatal injury could be a matter of a few inches, difference in speed or just luck. Clearly, the repetition of incidents involving vehicles colliding and leaving the road proves that there is a constant factor involved. Driving a motor vehicle on the lane can be a hazardous experience and for the many walkers, cyclists and people on horseback it is at times terrifying. Although a secondary concern, the cost of deploying emergency services, paramedics and even an air ambulance, is money which comes from public funds and charitable trusts.
In my experience over the last 26 years, I have seen this situation deteriorating year by year as traffic volumes have increased. Throughout this time there have been many approaches to ESCC Highways requesting improvements mainly to bring about reduction of speeds. After an expensive in-depth analysis and consultation in and around the area, a report known as LATS was published recommending changes in traffic management. When our parish councils referred to this we found that ESCC had buried this deeper than Westminster had managed with the Scott and Chilcott Reports, and refused to accept the findings.
Starting again in 2012 we formed a joint working party with Ditchling Parish Council, with a primary aim of setting a 40mph speed limit on the lane. The concept is simple; plant two signposts at each end of the lane, each one carrying 40 on the face and the symbol for National Speed Limit on the obverse. Unfortunately the KISS principle (keep it simple stupid) is not in use by ESCC Highways. Our working party then developed a road strategy for the surrounding area and asked for speed/density surveys. To cut a long and boring story short, apart from some minimal inadequate signage developed over the years we are no further forward. The needs that we established have been taken up in the emerging Neighbourhood Plan in the “aspirational” sections. The fall back reasons are inevitably stated as “no money as a result of reduced budgets.” However we have found intransigence to be a mindset in Highways Managers when it comes to public suggestions, and an attitude of “We know best and you know nothing.” The crashes continue, a recent event resulting in the destruction of the Royal Mail letter box.
We realise that we will have to settle for less than our requirements. For example we managed to persuade Highways, in better times, to install reflector posts on Lewes Road around the bend passing Spatham Lane. Since then we and our neighbours have been relieved of the frequent task of extricating people from cars imbedded in our boundary hedges. There is, I believe, room for negotiating some low cost improvements in signage and markings on Spatham Lane which I intend to pursue. This will be done with the help of our new County Councillor who will have the necessary power to penetrate the Highways fortress.
Conservation Area Church Corner
Our regular helper, Gerald Kallman, continues to maintain the grass and hedges Thank you Gerald, and the volunteers who help to keep the area tidy. Litter seems to be a constant nuisance, consisting mainly of food and drink packaging from fast food sources.
As part of our policy of maintaining our heritage finger posts we will be replacing the post on the corner. The existing sign has been on site for many decades and is past restoration, finally suffering damage from vandalism. This, together with refurbishing of the post at the foot of Hundred Acre Lane will be done this year.
An irritant is the use of our signs by cycle event organisers for nailing and stapling their directions markers. This damages the paint finish allowing water ingress to the timber. There is no justification for this as there are plenty of alternative places to use, even if it means using cable ties. We will continue to remove these signs and where we can identify the organisers, will be seeking restitution for the damage.
Spatham Lane rail crossing
There is a history of extreme nuisance caused to residents of Westmeston and Ditchling adjacent to the crossing as a result of weekend and nocturnal engineering works on the tracks. The crossing is used as an access route for contractors with their heavy machinery. The intrusive sound of large diesel engines running throughout the night and the associated noise made by moving plant, the audible warning signals, and loud voices is of greater impact during the normal quiet hours when people would expect to be sleeping. This has brought distress to one family, being unable to sleep properly during many consecutive nights when this work was carried out.
Another effect (collateral damage) has been the destruction of verges caused by the parking of heavy plant. All totally unnecessary as the road closures meant that the tarmac could have been used without causing obstruction. The unsightly aftermath has destroyed the rural scene whilst dumps of railway materials have created an unsightly landscape in the crossing surroundings.
Matters came to a head earlier this year and a site meeting was held with residents, Network Rail, Colas Rail (contractor), ESCC Highways and two Parish Councillors. Whilst he was unable to attend, I had previously received useful advice from Lewes District Council Environmental Health Officer. The meeting was a valuable process, probably bringing home to the Rail companies the detrimental effects on residents. The outcome was profuse apologies and agreements to put in hand the clearance of the unsightly stacks of materials and waste. Contractors would be held to a strict “code of conduct” that would be monitored. Adequate notice of future engineering works would be given to residents. The companies would endeavour to reduce the use the crossing when possible. In addition the contractors have accepted liability for verge damage and are prepared to pay for restoration. Negotiations are continuing to have Network Rail pay for timber posts to prevent access to the repaired verges. Most of the action is awaited although we are pleased to report that already a new trackside fence has been installed for a resident.
We are hoping for peace and tranquility.
Christine Swan MBE, has managed this Council for many years. We may be a small parish compared to some of our neighbours but nevertheless we have much the same burden of regulation and compliance. I am grateful for her support and know that without the backup I could not have functioned as Chairman. I am sure my fellow councillors will join me in expressing their thanks to Christine and her support team named John for all their input.
Chairman’s Annual Report May 2016.
Chairman Cllr Rob Mills.
Our line-up has changed since last year. We were pleased to welcome new Councillors Vincent Tickner and Tessa Haughton. Vincent represents us at Lewes District Association of Local Councils, and has brought with him a vast knowledge of local history which has been educational for us. Tessa has family roots in the Parish and with husband Michael is working to conserve their large area of Downland. She is active in the Parish as a Trustee of the Parish Hall.
One remaining vacancy is expected to be filled shortly.
I am taking this opportunity to thank all Councillors for their work and involvement over the year. On behalf of Councillors I thank our steadfast Clerk Christine Swan MBE for keeping us on track and ensuring we are compliant with regulation. Also whilst he keeps out of the limelight, I know her husband John is always there in support. Thank you John from all of us.
Planning & Neighbourhood Plan;
These two heading are inextricably linked, with much work involved in bring the Plan up to the Pre-submission Consultation draft stage. The Consultation was open to everyone for comments. The issues raised are now being analysed and amendments considered. Unfortunately Tom Dufty, our Chairman of the Project Management Group has been taken seriously ill. Whilst there is good news about his progress it means that the Group must continue without the Tom’s dedication and massive input to the Plan. It is likely that some delays will be inevitable.
Within our Parish there have been no contentious planning matters over the year.
Together with Cllrs Mark Clark and Cathy Mills we have reviewed our aims in the light of practicalities and local resources. The comprehensive plans in force with Lewes District Council and the emergency services, with trained and qualified personnel working under legislative powers, indicated that in an emergency[R1] there would be a strong probability of these measures being timely and adequate.
Our Plan would be to make a basic level of immediate assistance available until professional help arrives. We therefore organised basic First Aid instruction through British Red Cross, resulting in 14 qualified “first responders”. We would be happy to arrange further classes for volunteers. In addition, our first Public Access Defibrillator is now in service and we have plans for more.
The Parish Hall is designated ”Place of Safety” and Keyholders contact details are held by the District Council Plan co-ordinater.
We are pleased to have Gerald Kallman looking after our grass and hedge trimming, and also generally making a good job of keeping the area tidy. Some overgrown shrubs have been removed and an area laid down to wild flowers, thanks to volunteer work from Parishioners.
Outside of the Conservation Area, we are endeavouring to rebuild and protect verges in various locations. Indiscriminate parking during extremely wet conditions has destroyed many yards of grass verge. At Spatham Lane junction with Lewes Road, residents Ray and Jill Veness have put in much work to restore the grass and trim back hedges. We have installed a new finger post, rebuilt some of the verge and another area has been sown with wild flower seeds.
A long running dispute over damage caused by Network Rail near the Spatham Lane level crossing is expected to be resolved this year. Rebuilding and protecting verges is the anticipated outcome.
Unfortunately ESCC Highways Dept. no longer carries out such restoration work but offers “match funding” through contractors. The cost is not even worth considering. In other words, if we want our neighbourhood to look the way it should, it is down to volunteers to pitch in. We would welcome any offers.
In January, Cllr Vincent Tickner organised a talk by Lewes District Council Tree Officer. This attracted a sizeable audience from both local and wider areas of Sussex, including land owners. The talk and question time covered many issues including Tree Protection Orders, Conservation Areas, pruning and felling, dangerous trees, and diseases. My thanks to Vincent for this worthwhile evening.
Westmeston Parish Room Trust
Chairman’s Report 2016
Sadly, we lost two of our longest serving Trustees, Joe Wratten in April and Doreen Kallman in May 2015. Doreen had been actively campaigning to fund and build the Hall since the 1990s and her efforts were rewarded on 1st January 2000 when the Parish Hall opened. Their hard work and dedication will always be missed.
In June Cathy Mills and Tessa Haughton were appointed as Trustees. Cathy took on the position of Treasurer and Tessa assumed responsibility for Risk Assessment.
Improvements during the year included a new cooker, which proved its worth on Parish Bonfire Night. Extra fencing was erected by Colin Hall to protect the new soakaway and recently a new boundary fence along the highway was built to improve safety and security for children attending Acorns Nursery School.
Together with the Parish Council and a subsidy from Burgess Hill Lions, we sited a public access defibrillator in the porch. This is signposted from the highway and is fully operational.
The Bonfire was as usual, a sell-out, raising £550 for Hall funds.
A windfall was a donation of £170 from the Christmas Tea.
Hiring rates were reviewed in the light of increasing costs. Market research indicated that we were charging less than competitive rates and that some increases were good business sense. The result was a new charging scale that remains competitive and fair.
Trustees Paul and Colin with Gerald Kallman have put in much time and effort maintaining the building and grounds. We are pleased to have the voluntary services of our neighbour Kendall Golding with her expert skills on her professional grade mower.
Our thanks to them and all our helpers who are ready to pitch in at our events.
Chairmans Annual Report April 2015
Chairman Cllr Rob Mills
This report does not set out to cover all the work that this council has undertaken during the past year. It does however highlight some of the matters we have been involved in.
We started the year with vacancy for a Councillor and we were very pleased to elect Todd Ford, from the north of the Parish, to join the team. Todd came to us with a background in property and a practical knowledge of planning which has since proved to be a valuable asset.
Following on from last year’s activity the Neighbourhood Plan is being developed by the Project Management Group and making good progress. Westmeston is represented by Mr. Paul Farrands and Councillors act as advisers. All residents were invited to comment by questionnaire in July and this formed the basis of the group’s work. If it has not already happened, all Westmeston, Streat and Ditchling residents will receive their excellent newsletter within the next few days. In the meantime, and in fact at any time, details of the plan can be found on the website www.beaconvillagesplan.co.uk
Our website, edited by Cllr Cathy Mills, was started last year and has proved to be the only viable method of keeping in touch with parishioners. The site carries information about Parish Council and community matters and has useful links to other organisations.
We were working with Ditchling on a joint strategy for traffic management, including speed limits. Cllr. Clare Farrands from Spatham Lane has taken on this responsibility and is well placed to deal with both Westmeston and Ditchling residents’ concerns.
The need for Neighbourhood Plans is probably the most significant change in long term planning strategy that we have seen for decades. It is hoped that this will mean having greater local influence at Parish Council level. Discussions in Council concluded that we should be taking a much closer and more proactive part in the planning process. This includes exchanges of ideas with applicants and where possible to ensure that our residents’ views are taken into account, within planning rules.
Cllr Todd Ford was instrumental in drafting and proposing a suitable procedure and this was adopted. In view of the current vacuum and confusion prior to the adoption of the Neighbourhood Plan and the likely increase of applications encouraged by central government’s lifting of restrictions in the countryside, we feel that we have made a positive step on behalf of our public.
Emergency Plan and provision of Defibrillators
These started off as separate initiatives but as they progressed it was clear that they should be linked.
After much groundwork and many hours input from Todd Ford, and assistance from Mark Clark, the introduction of the Community Resilience and Emergencies plan was launched on our web site last week. It is at the stage where volunteers are requested and it is hoped that we can have a working scheme by the end of the year. This will include provision of first aid training for volunteers. We regret to say that our neighbouring parish of Streat has declined to be involved. This will not, of course, preclude any of their residents receiving help from our scheme should the need arise. The ongoing Emergency Response Group consists of includes Cllrs. Todd Ford, Cathy Mills, Mark Clark and myself. Please take time to find out what you can add to the plan.
The campaign by councillors, to raise money for Defibrillators has started. Cllrs. Mark Clark and Tim Best are working on this. All donations gratefully received. We need in the region of £1500.00 per site.
We continue to manage Church Corner. Considerable brush and undergrowth has been cleared from the bank and contractors will be mowing and weeding during the growing season. The area behind the phone box was considerably damaged during excavations by the power company and after Cllr Cathy Mills’s intervention a team was sent out to make good the surfaces and sow new grass. The Sarcen Stone plaque was cleaned by the original stonemason and the phone box and finger post painted. Since the introduction of the planters by Cllr Edwina Rowling the general appearance and safety on the corner has improved.
There is currently some disruption due to construction work at Church Cottages but we have been given an undertaking that all will be made good.
Rights of Way
Time constraints have prevented the organisation of working parties. Our principle concern is Wapple Way which suffers damage during the wet winters. Our previous sessions helped a great deal but we realised the limits of muscle power against the effects of nature. The use of machinery and a large quantity of roadstone is our real requirement but is something we cannot fund at our level of local government. It is hoped that we will be able to call on our volunteers again before long.
My thanks are due to our Councillors for their support and time with a huge thank you to Christine Swan for guiding and managing us for another year.
Chairman's Report 2014
The year to date:
When appointed Chairman it was my intention to forge closer relationships with adjoining Parishes because in this small area of the county, parish boundaries are simply lines on the map when it comes to events that affect us all.
I have therefore continued to work with Ditchling to create a traffic plan with the intended outcome of a speed limit in Spatham Lane. This will be covered in more detail by Tom Jones Lewes District and Ditchling Councillor. We have joined forces with Streat (Tony Gedge) and Ditchling (Tom Dufty) to develop the joint neighbourhood plan. Richard Flack from the Project Management Group will be expanding on this later.
In November our long serving Councillor and champion of Westmeston, Harold Rowling MBE, retired from the council. He also felt that time had come to publish the final edition of the popular Westmeston Parish News in December. This caused a vacuum and loss of expertise in the areas of rights of way and communications, jobs taken over by Cllr Cathy Mills.
We are left with a vacancy for a co-opted councillor. The position has been extensively advertised without result. Our ideal recruit would be a resident of Westmeston with an interest in conserving and improving the Parish. Pro-active would summarise the qualities, with on-line capability. New, preferably young blood is needed to carry us forward as the effects and benefits of localism become apparent. We hope to fill the vacancy as the council elections are about a year away when our continuity could be at risk with the possibility of other councillors retiring. I appeal for those interested to contact our Clerk, Christine Swan. (Details on the web-site)
Conservation Area. Church Corner
During the year, after sterling work from Cllr Edwina Rowling in reclaiming the footway for walkers and removing the blight of illegally parked vehicles, a programme of maintenance and improvement was started by Cllr Cathy Mills. A contractor was appointed to regularise the weeding, grass cutting, hedge control and general tidying. The traditional timber finger post and phone box were in need of painting but work which started in the autumn had to be abandoned due to the impossible weather conditions. The job will be completed in the next week or so.
Rights of Way (including Jubilee Pathway)
Two very wet winters followed by last year’s record rainfall has taken its toll on the footpaths and to a greater extent the bridleways. Both ESCC Highways and Jubilee Pathway have incurred major costs in repairing tracks at Bridleway 20 (Wapple Way), 11 between Wapple Way and Meadow Sweet Cottage, and Jubilee Pathway on Lewes Road. Much of this work suffered major damage due to weather. We have observed, unfortunately, that much of the damage has been unnecessarily aggravated by a small but inconsiderate element of the riding community, failing to moderate their gait over the wetter parts of the terrain, making it difficult for people to traverse on foot. They have been cantering and even galloping over these areas causing the surface and underlying material to be broken up and even more vulnerable to water damage. This behaviour is condemned by responsible riders and who see the danger of their own recreational activity being labelled as antisocial.
With the knowledge that County resources are limited, the parish council has recently started volunteer working parties to clear ditches and repair tracks. It has been encouraging to find willing helpers, including riders and walkers who share our belief in “self help”. The principle of a number of people working hard for relatively short periods, say about 2 hours, doing tasks within their own physical capabilities, has already made a visible difference. Some may be happy to do the heavy work of digging out ditches while others can do lighter work such as trimming back brambles and briars. All tasks are equally important and we need people for both light and heavy jobs. Dates and time will be published on the website.
Our means of communicating with parishioners required urgent review towards the latter end of 2013. We relied on the independently edited Westmeston Parish News to report on our meetings and other occurrences. The bi-monthly WPN, much enjoyed by subscribers for the interesting content and editorial humour, was by nature historical and therefore could not be used for immediate issues such as statutory notices of agenda. We use the Church Corner notice board for this information but it has obvious limitations, being central in the parish and remote from a large number of residents. We had been considering a website, intending it to run in parallel with the WPN. To send out regular printed news sheets would have been costly and in view of the relatively huge increase in postal charges became out of the question.
We proceeded with the website managed by Cllr Cathy Mills who set it up for the equivalent cost of one mail shot, truly value for money. This was not intended to replace the WPN but as I mentioned earlier there is now no WPN, leaving the site as the parish’s main source of communication, carrying agenda and minutes of our meetings, details of Councillors, local information and links to other relevant sites. Every household has been sent a notice about the site and all are invited to register for receiving e-mailed information on local matters. So far we have compiled a modest list of interested parties but I have to say that the take up is disappointing. I can no longer accept complaints of, “I did not know”, “nobody told us”, when the information is published on the site.
It has been a quiet year for planning activity. We have been fortunate in taking guidance from our member Cllr Clare Farrands who has a professional background in planning. One contentious application provoked considerable opposition from residents, which the parish council supported by submitting an objection. This development was refused by Lewes District Council on substantial grounds.
Westmeston Parish Hall
This fine building where we are gathered continues to run successfully under the management team. They are looking at a plan for the next 10 years to ensure it meets the needs of the community. Whilst financially self sufficient a few rental voids remain and are being addressed. The Trustees were pleased to have Colin Hall join as Trustee. Colin has already contributed a great deal in skill and hard work in support of the team and the Trustees look forward to working with him in the future.
Westmeston Jubilee Pathway Trust.
Last summer saw expenditure of c£3500 for track bed repairs. The wet winter has created repeat damage and more funds are needed to continue with the maintenance programme. The comments about maverick riders also apply to the Trust’s pathways.
Peter Luckin, Neighbourhood Watch, has been keeping us informed of events and keeps us up to date with trends in Policing. This has been a useful service, reminding us to keep vigilant about rural crime. There is a website link. We will be hearing from our local Policing Unit later in the meeting.
The year ahead.
Neighbourhood Planning; This is a fast developing responsibility and we continue to support the project management group.
Speed Limits: The safer traffic scheme wll be a continuing campaign.
Rights of way: the working parties are planned to continue and we welcome volunteers at any level of ability. Now that the County’s Village Maintenance Teams are no longer available we are expecting to be more involved in “self help.”
Communications: Events move on and we must move with them. We are aware that some residents may not have on line capability and feel left out when it comes to the website and e mail communications. I recall that a few decades past people said similar things about phones when many households did not have them. This subject is on our next meeting agenda when we will be discussing a) the compilation of a list of such residents for a limited postal information service, b) a “good neighbour arrangement whereby those with e mail could print out important information for those otherwise out of touch.
Emergency Planning; sometimes known as Resilience Planning: Even a small rural parish is not immune to major emergencies. What these could be nobody knows but unprecedented occurrences could happen anywhere. We are over flown by many commercial and private aircraft,
There is a railway line bisecting the parish while masses of all kinds of vehicles use our roads.
There are always risks of associated fires, property damage and toxic air pollution. People may think “it will never happen here” but transport, communications and safety of dwellings in many locations were seriously affected by extreme weather just a few month’s ago. Disasters on the lines of Lockerbie could happen anywhere or things we have not even imagined could happen at anytime.
We will be considering a plan to assist our residents and emergency services, albeit in a minor way. Some examples would be creating a call out list for tractors/lifting machines, 4WDs, and people with skills to use them. Medical skills at all levels would also be an essential resource to mobilise. We would hope that it will never be needed but in the event of an emergency at least part of our plan could be activated to make a crisis more manageable. Once again it is the volunteer spirit that we want to harness, we know it exists.
Such a plan would be in conjunction with our local authorities and I believe should include our adjoining parishes to maximise the potential resources available.
It remains for me to thank you for listening and to thank my fellow Councillors and Parish Clerk Christine Swan for their work over the past year.
22nd April 2014