Annual Parish Meeting Minutes 2022

MINUTES OF THE ANNUAL PARISH MEETING

HELD IN THE VESTRY HALL, CRANBROOK

ON WEDNESDAY 27TH APRIL 2022

Councillors Present: Cllr. Fletcher (Chair), Cllrs. Bunyan, Dyke, Gilbert, Hatcher, Kings, Pethurst, Rampling, Simpson, Tomlinson and Waters.

Approximately 9 members of the public.

Apologies: Cllrs. Beck and Fairweather.

The Chairman welcomed everyone to the meeting and thanked them for coming. He explained this was a parishioner’s meeting rather than a council meeting although the Committee Chairmen would be taking the opportunity to report their committee’s activities over the last year to parishioners. He advised the meeting was being recorded as a Clerk’s aid.

MINUTES OF THE LAST MEETING:

Cllr. Fletcher explained the minutes to be adopted, were from the last meeting held on 28th April 2021. He proposed they be adopted as a true record; this was seconded by Cllr. Hatcher and agreed. The Chairman signed the Minute Book.

The Chairman introduced guest speaker Mary McKeeman, Executive Headteacher of Belle Vue and Cornfield School and her colleague Grace Nicholls, Assistant Head at Belle Vue School. He explained that about a year ago the redundant Jockey Lane Clinic became Belle Vue School and Mrs. McKeeman had been invited to tell us about the school.

Mrs. McKeeman outlined the history of how Belle Vue has come into existence, how it had been set up as an independent school as opposed to an academy, as was originally envisaged and how the two different models are funded, essentially from the same pot of money. The setting up of an academy can take up to eighteen months whereas an independent school can be created within a significantly shorter timescale. School places are funded directly by Local Authorities and not by parents.

She explained that prior to coming into education she had been a serving police officer for fifteen years and brought transferable skills and experience to the education sector, initially to tackle schools in difficulty.  In the past few years she has worked with local authorities with the intention of establishing a hub of schools that provide excellent provision for pupils that need extra support.

She outlined that she understands life is not the same for everyone and makes no assumptions or judgements. She explained that life chances are not the same for all children and that in order to improve outcomes for children the school creates and provides bespoke curriculums and approaches to education to enable children to succeed.   The school is clear that they want children to develop a sense of belonging and purpose in the world so that they have the education and skills to thrive in society.  The school seeks to reverse some of the potential negative outcomes such as being in prison or worse.  She, believes education can transform people’s lives and is passionate about improving life chances. The school instils a sense of belonging, it is often the only constant in the children’s lives, many have already experienced great loss. The consequences of the school not meeting their objectives would be dire for the children.

Belle Vue is registered for 60 children, although at the moment it has 33 pupils. The GCSE results obtained so far are comparable to other schools. The pupils are calm, orderly and respectful despite some pupils presenting with very high levels of anxiety or arriving with a history of exclusion from mainstream schools. Belle Vue operates a zero tolerance of swearing or any other anti-social behaviour.  

The school operate on the theory that if minor issues are dealt with, they do not become bigger issues. Her role is to improve the children’s chances. The ethos follows the ‘broken window theory’ from New York. If a window gets broken then replace it to create a good environment to stop the decline escalating. 

In summary Belle Vue creates a ‘special school’ perception which could not be more different than reality. It is a place of belonging, a magical place. She encouraged people to visit the school to see for themselves.

In response to several questions, she confirmed the age range of pupils was 11-19.

Most of the children come from Kent or the Medway area, some are local to Cranbrook and some are from other local authorities.

There is no optimum number of pupils in the school, rather it is about ensuring the school can meet pupil’s needs and improve their life chances. They have received many referrals this year, unfortunately not all are the right ‘fit’ for the school or the staff they have. They consider each referral and make a decision on pupils they can meet need for considering that child’s needs and the needs of the school cohort at the time. This in itself can be very difficult as everyone has a ‘back story’ but it is important to select those children that can be matched with the expertise of the staff available at the school.

The staff to pupil ratio can depend, it can be 1:1 or anything up to 9 or 10:1.

Although occasionally a pupil may return to mainstream education, this aspiration is often not the best move for some pupils who value the nurturing and safe environment Belle Vue offers where they can learn and develop at a pace and in a style which suits them.

Cllr. Fletcher drew the meeting attendees to the last edition of the parish magazine and the poem written by a pupil of the school.

He thanked Mrs McKeeman and Ms. Nichol for giving up their valuable time and explaining what the school was about. He also wished them well for the forthcoming Ofsted Inspection.

CHAIRMAN’S REPORT:                                                                                                    Cllr. Fletcher

The Chairman stated that for some, this was their first Annual Parish Meeting. He introduced Cllrs. Dyke and Rampling who had joined the Parish Council in July 2021 and Cllrs. Simpson and Tomlinson who had been co-opted only last month. We would be hearing more from some of them, during the meeting.                                                                                                            

Cllr. Fletcher stated that as Chairman, his main concern was community cohesion. Sissinghurst have achieved this, but we need to work on improving it in Cranbrook. There are initiatives coming along that he thinks will help.  He thanked Cllr. Pethurst for his part in organising the volunteers during the initial Covid crisis and for those that helped organise efforts in Sissinghurst. Dealing with the pandemic had been difficult, but in his opinion what lies ahead, could be an even bigger challenge.

The economic outlook is really concerning. House prices are extremely high, as are energy costs, taxes are going up and there is a cost of living crisis across the board. The impact of the war in the Ukraine is being felt by everyone.

The costs to build the Medical Centre are rising. We have had a company undertaking geotechnical surveys this week. We need to keep our options open, as to how we fund the build.

He did believe the impact of the closure of High Weald Academy has not been truly felt yet. He has spoken to parents of children that have to get up at 6am to be on a bus by 7am. They have to carry heavy textbooks around all day, due to a lack of lockers. Many parents are having to pay the bus fares now, the promise of free transport is not kicking in until September.

The closure will inevitably affect community cohesion for years to come. He recognises that Kent County Council were not informed of the closure until after central government had made the decision.

In the short term, antisocial behaviour has become a real issue. This is the reason we have invested in the field shelter for the Crane Valley, in the hope that providing an alternative meeting place, the toilets will be left undamaged.

When in the ownership of the Borough Council, Cranbrook toilets were deemed the most expensive to maintain in the Borough because of the constant damage incurred. As a town with tourist potential, it is not feasible to have no public conveniences.

If anyone witnesses damage being committed, please encourage them to report it by calling 999. All ASB needs to be reported to have a chance of increasing the police presence in the Town.

REPORTS FROM COMMITTEE CHAIRMEN

POLICY & RESOURCES COMMITTEE:                                                                         Cllr. Fletcher

In the absence of Cllr. Beck, Cllr. Fletcher explained the importance of the Committee and how it allowed us to be forward thinking, but remain pragmatic and economically prudent. The Committee is responsible for any staffing issues and for maintaining our ‘Quality’ status. It looks to lead on new initiatives. As it meets monthly, it checks the invoices to be paid each month and approves the grants awarded to voluntary organisations, which are then ratified at a Full Council meeting.

PROPERTIES AND BURIAL GROUNDS COMMITTEE:                                               Cllr. Gilbert

Cllr. Gilbert gave an overview of the Committee’s responsibilities, which includes the two cemeteries, the Vestry Hall and parish office, the War Memorials, bus shelters, noticeboards, cycle racks and red telephone boxes. We are now facing the challenge of the increasing energy crisis so we looking at commissioning an energy report on the Vestry Hall Complex, to see if there is an alternative to the old central heating system?

The installation of the railings and bollards at Golford Cemetery have been successful at preventing unauthorised vehicles gaining access to certain areas of the Cemetery. Both Cemeteries are being maintained to a high standard.

After repeated requests to provide public toilet facilities in the town and the lack of an alternative location being identified, the decision was taken to refurbish the toilets in Crane Lane, as a temporary solution. We have purchased a field shelter for the Crane Valley which it is hoped will tempt those who had previously committed the damage to the toilets, away from the location. We intend to have all but the disabled toilet open 24/7 as most of the previous damage was created when the building was broken into. We had accepted the offer from Belle Vue School to decorate the external panels, which had been very successful.

ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT COMMITTEE:                                                        Cllr. Kings

Cllr. Kings advised the Committee was responsible for the maintenance and management of the parish recreation grounds, the car parks and spaces including the electric vehicle charge points, street lighting and allotments.

It is also responsible for play equipment. The purchase of the new equipment on the Ball Field had caused concern for some parishioners, as it was not suitable for younger children. It had proved very popular for the over 5’s though.

Keeping the carparks maintained had been problematic. Sourcing quotes for work to be undertaken had proved particularly difficult. We had at last managed to get a good quality repair of the exit road to the Regal Car Park.

Electric vehicle charge points/spaces are being used by non electric vehicles which is causing frustration to owners looking to charge their vehicles.

Allotments are on the whole well maintained, although a small minority need some attention. The tenancy agreement and rules are due to be reviewed, to remove any ambiguity as to the behaviour expected from tenants.

The Ball Field has been planted with a wildflower area by Cranbrook in Bloom and we would like to thank them for improving the aspect.

The Chairman invited Cllr. Dyke to give an update on the electric vehicle charge points in Jockey Lane.

Cllr. Dyke reported that Cranbrook had been an early adopter with EV charging but the demand stimulated by the units on Jockey Lane is now being compromised by a number of issues, most notably the unreliability of the 3 double BP Pulse chargers installed. The Council are looking into the possibility of supplementing our current units by adding not just more FAST units on Jockey Lane but also encouraging Cranbrook School to apply for a grant to install FAST units in their own car park to serve the growing number of their staff and pupils driving EV & Hybrids. 

Next year we will consider investigating, hopefully with the assistance of TWBC, the installation of RAPID units in the Regal Car Park which will provide much quicker charging and thus also assist the growth of the High Street by attracting ‘passing’ traffic. 

We are well placed to become a local leader in the take up of EVs by being blessed with plentiful free parking in the town. 

A parishioner asked if the town’s people were subsidising electric vehicle owners, as the costs of the supply did not appear to be covered by the income?

Cllr. Dyke advised that the unreliability of the units had an impact on the amount of money we had received. A small margin on every kilowatt sold comes back to us, however if they are not in operation, we do not get the income.

PLANNING & PRESERVATION COMMITTEE:                                                             Cllr. Bunyan

Cllr. Bunyan began her report by thanking the Clerks – especially Lynn – for all their help and also the committee for their commitment to putting in the time.

Unfortunately, John Smith who took over the Chairmanship of this committee nearly three years ago has moved and she was now back in the driving seat.  The Committee continue to meet twice a month to look at and make recommendations on the applications in this parish.  Mostly, they are extensions and replacement dwellings and some tree work but by far the biggest impact, on both the Parish and the Planning Committee are the large developments: 

In Cranbrook

Brick Kiln 180 dwellings approved and ground works have started

Turnden 1 – 40 dwellings currently under construction

Turnden 2 – 165 dwellings – refused by TWBC and appeal decision should be published before 4th July this year

The Long Field – 35 dwellings and a new playgroup building – refused by TWBC and going to appeal

In Sissinghurst:

The site on the crossroads half way up Common Road – 18 dwellings approved

The one on the corner of Mill Lane – 42 dwellings refused by TWBC and dismissed at appeal

And the site behind St George’s Institute – 19 dwellings and a new Village Hall which is awaiting the decision by TWBC.

These large sites come with a huge amount of on line ‘paper work’ which is shared out, discussed and neighbours views taken into consideration before making a recommendation.  She wanted to stress that these views are very useful, although the Committee are all from the Parish, no one knows the implications better than those living next door so they should be encouraged to keep making comments.

Cllr. Bunyan is enthusiastic about well built, well insulated and eco-friendly construction and promotes it at every possible opportunity.  The requirements of the Government’s building regulations – even the proposed improved version – is laughable.   She lived in Germany over half a century ago and the way they built then, was better than we are building now.

Five years ago the Parish Council prepared an Eco Design Guide which was forwarded to everyone putting in a relevant application.  We have now issued an Eco Statement and hope that more thought will be given to improving build quality.  We have seen an improvement from self-builders which is a start.  Developers are not interested and say that they will not go down the ‘PASSIV’ route until they are forced to by legislation.

Cllr. Bunyan read out our Eco Statement as follows:

In order to help combat climate change and reduce CO2 emissions and in light of the high and ever increasing cost of heating, be it by using gas, electricity or oil, Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council is disappointed that developers are not prepared/being encouraged/being required to apply the PASSIVHAUS approach to the build quality of their product.  Fabric first, high levels of insulation and airtightness mean the home needs minimal heating.  This should apply to all housing including importantly the social housing sector.

Just as an illustration PASSIVHAUS airtightness specification is 0.6 or fewer air changes per hour whereas Building Regulations is 10.00!!

We live in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with hundreds of listed buildings and much of the area is within one of our three Conservation Areas.  It is important that developments should look attractive and be in keeping with the local scene on the outside but equally, if not even more importantly, that they should promote healthy, happy, sustainable and AFFORDABLE living within.

ClIr. Bunyan concluded by offering to everyone, if they wanted to know more about this approach to building, she would be delighted to point them in the right direction and share her experiences.

NEIGHBOURHOOD DEVELOPMENT PLAN:                                                             Cllr. Pethurst

Cllr. Pethurst stated that if he could choose one word to describe the Neighbourhood Development Plan this year, it might be, ‘frustrating’. We had hoped that the Plan would have been brought to Referendum by late 2021, however there have been a number of factors meaning that this has been delayed.

Those who attended last year’s online version of the Annual Parish Meeting will have seen Nancy Warne’s wonderful presentation describing how, in very trying lockdown circumstances, we had brought the NDP to Public Consultation at the end of 2020. We felt that this had been very successful, producing over 800 responses, all of which were reviewed in full and considered over the course of many meetings. There was a significant amount of work resulting from this, which took longer to complete than we originally anticipated.

Over the course of the last year, he reported:

  • Several significant members of the Steering Group have stepped down, or back, for a number of reasons, not least Nancy Warne herself, although she remains as Chairman of the Steering Group at the moment.
  • We have seen the Public Enquiry into the second phase development on Turnden Farm. This, quite rightly, had to be prioritised by members of the Steering Group.
  • At about the same time, we were asked by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to provide a draft copy of the Neighbourhood Development Plan. This, eventually, resulted in TWBC making a further 200 suggestions for clarifications or amendments, which, of course, had to be reviewed
  • TWBC also made us even more aware of the need to comply with Government guidance to provide documents in an accessible format. This essentially means that any documents published online by Local Government must be accessible to sight-impaired members of the public using screen readers. This adds layers of complexity to the final published document, and has involved us in a lot more research, in order to ensure compliance with current regulations. It seems that even TWBC themselves may be finding it hard to be fully compliant with these regulations, and give advice to others.
  • By September 2021, a final draft of the Plan had been collated, containing many amendments, and some additions to provide clarification. Some policies were amalgamated where duplications had been identified. This document ran to about 160 pages.
  • In addition to the Draft Plan, we had to produce a Consultation Statement, which, effectively, identifies the timeline of the NDP from the initial meetings in 2016, through to the Public Consultation. It also contains an anonymised list of all the comments received. This document runs to over 200 pages.
  • The Draft Plan and the Consultation Statement were sent to our Consultant, Feria Urbanism at the end of September last year. The Consultant was then required to provide an additional document called ‘Meeting the Basic Conditions’. All three documents were then to be returned to us in an acceptable, accessible format appropriate for submission to TWBC. We are still waiting for this stage to be completed which indicates the work involved in creating an NDP.

The next steps:

  • Continue to pursue our Consultant to provide submission versions of the documents mentioned above.
  • Satisfy ourselves that the documents comply with Accessibility requirements.
  • Gain approval at full Parish Council to submit the submission versions to TWBC.
  • Once accepted by TWBC, the Plan will be sent for external examination. There may be further amendments required by the examiner before we are able to hold a local referendum. A successful referendum will result in the Plan being adopted, or ‘made’. It is difficult to predict the timings for these steps.

ECONOMIC & COMMUNITY COMMITTEE:                                                               Cllr. Hatcher

Cllr. Hatcher explained that the Committee had been held in abeyance until last year. It has a large ranging remit including anything that falls under ‘local community’. We need to consider how the Parish Council connects with local organisations and parishioners.

The Committee have discussed:

  • How to support parishioners with debt problems.
  • How we can help Citizen’s Advice have a presence in the town
  • Creating a Dementia Trail
  • Tourism
  • A high street business crime reduction initiative, through using radios
  • Creating a check list for event planning to help anyone planning a community event
  • How we can help local organisations recruit volunteers

The ‘Best Dressed Shop’ Award was also resurrected at Christmas. The primary focus remains to ensure the Parish Council communicates effectively with parishioners and local organisations. The Parish Council Facebook page has been well received. We are looking to improve the website but need to consider other ways of connecting with parishioners who do not use Facebook/Internet or are reluctant to engage with us.

The Chairman introduced the two newest councillors to tell the meeting about the projects they were involved with:

Community Kitchen                                                                                                               Cllr. Simpson

Cllr. Simpson explained that with the issues around the cost of living crisis it would be really important for people to be able to access hot food either free of charge or at least, at a minimal cost. Messy Church meet once a month and provide a hot meal. A year ago there were about 28 children fed a hot meal, now this has increased to around 70, so things are already starting to bite. Age Concern have restarted their Coffee Mornings and have decided to extend their booking to offer soup and a roll. A donation box will be provided for those who wish to make a donation and it was hoped that the ingredients required could be sourced from local shops, surplus from the allotments or donated by well wishers. The idea was to also offer a hot meal to children at 3.30pm. The project is just getting off the ground and they are currently looking for volunteers to help.

A parishioner suggested that our Borough Councillors should be approached to see if we could apply for some of the £1m ‘Share Prosperity Fund’ TWBC have been allocated by Central Government to assist with the costs of the project.

Cranbrook Juniors Football Club                                                                                     Cllr. Tomlinson

Cllr. Tomlinson reported that the club had started in May last year. It now has nine committee members, links with fourteen primary schools and covers five age groups. It has recently launched a girls only session and introduced holiday camps. They hope to start sessions for toddlers and pre-school children very soon.

The Chairman congratulated Cllr. Tomlinson on the huge amount of energy required to get the club moving forward so quickly.

The Chairman invited questions from the public attending.

A parishioner requested an update on the Cranbrook Engineering Site, specifically if the new owner would honour the assurances from the previous owner, to provide the infrastructure to the boundary of the piece of land gifted to the Parish?

The Chairman confirmed the new owner was unable to change any of the previous arrangements agreed. Two 40ft containers were moved onto the site today, he believed the construction would begin in September. We are awaiting a geotechnology report from a survey carried out this week.

The parishioner also believed it would be beneficial to keep an eye on the budgets and level of reserves to check monies are allocated correctly. She also asked if we would be able to fund the Medical Centre with an NHS grant in the same way Southborough had?

The Chairman confirmed that unfortunately, the NHS had changed the way they fund these projects so that was not an option open to us.

A member of the public asked Cllr. Dyke if she owned an electric vehicle herself and how she charged it?

Cllr. Dyke confirmed she had an electric vehicle which she charged in Jockey Lane. She was unable to charge her vehicle at home, because she lived on the High Street and did not have a drive. 

The member of public also queried the Council’s VAT position.

The Clerk confirmed all VAT paid out is reclaimed quarterly and invited him to inspect the VAT Returns at his convenience.

The Chairman thanked everyone for attending the meeting.

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