Minutes of the Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Annual Parish Meeting held on Wednesday 26th April 2023, at Parish Rooms, Sissinghurst

Councillors Present: Cllr. Fletcher (Chair), Cllrs. Bunyan, Gilbert, Hatcher, Mills, Simpson, and Somers.

Approximately 25 members of the public.

Apologies: Cllrs. Dyke, Fairweather, Kings, Pethurst and Tomlinson.

  1. Welcome by the Chair: Cllr. Kim Fletcher
    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.
  2. To receive Minutes of the Annual Parish Meeting held on 27thApril 2022 for signature
    Fletcher proposed the minutes of the meeting held on 27th April 2022 be adopted, this was seconded by Cllr. Gilbert and agreed.
  3. Presentation of KALC Community Award
    Fletcher presented the KALC Community award to Mrs. Mitzi Newsom. Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council had nominated Mitzi for the award ‘For enthusiastically dedicating half a century to leading the Sissinghurst Flower Show Society through great changes and ensuring it remains a much loved and relevant village organisation.’
  4. Introductions from Local Organisations
    • Sissinghurst Flower Show Society – Mrs. Newsom, Chairman and General Secretary, explained that they have been unable to trace the exact date of the formation of the Society, but it is believed to have been running for over 110 years. It currently hosts three shows a year, these are held at Sissinghurst Primary School. The next will be in June. There are a various classes, flowers, vegetables, cookery, photography and classes for children. Benefits of membership of the society include discounts at various nurseries and plant centres. Full details can be found on their website:
    • Friends of Sissinghurst School (FOSS) – Gavin Russell, introduced himself as the Chair of FOSS. The charity has focused on bringing back a sense of community to the school following COVID. They organise a range of activities inside and outside the school. The school has recently welcomed a new Head, Mrs Holman, who has joined following a time where there have been several changes in leadership. Looking forward, one of its objectives is that FOSS has been challenged to help fund single form entry as the housing development in the area is likely to put pressure on the school to move to single form entry. Another objective is to help finance IT improvements. FOSS are very keen to be part of the community. There are also plans to make more use of the school field for events aimed at people outside of the school.
    • St Georges Institute – Sue McAuley, Trustee, gave an overview of the history of the charity. In 1914 the piece of land on which the Village Hall now stands was purchased to provide an institute for all residents of Sissinghurst. The origin of the building is unclear, although one idea is that it had been used by the Alexander family of Great Swifts as a museum, housing the stuffed bird collection now in the Cranbrook Museum. It arrived at its current site in 1914 to be used as a men’s institute. Around the 1930s it become a Women’s Institute who let it out to other groups. The hall is now in need of updating. A quote for £300,000 had been received to replace the kitchen and toilets alone. After considering various options the charity agreed with the current plans, to give land to Fernham homes allowing them to widen the entrance, enabling them to develop the site. In return Fernham will provide a new village hall. The interior design is still to be decided. The demolition of the current building is scheduled for end May/beginning June. The new hall should be in place by August 2024.
    • Friends of Sissinghurst Church (FoSCh) – Peter Mellor, Treasurer and Membership Secretary – FoSCh is a registered charity created in 2008 by the late Canon Doug Redman. They work closely with the rector and PCC to help finance improvements and maintenance of Trinity Church and Parish Rooms. Income is principally provided by Standing Order subscriptions. Subscriptions start at £5 per month. Subscribers need not be regular church goers. They are hoping to hold another Open Gardens in the summer. Anyone wishing to become a member should contact Peter Mellor whose details can be found on the website:
    • Cornwallis Trust – Juliet Mellor, Trustee – The Cornwallis family donated land for the old vicarage, church rooms, original school and school cottages. In the mid 1980’s the charity was formed when the cottages were sold, and the proceeds invested. The income is used to provide support for educational purposes including the school, Scouts and individuals who live in the village or attended Sissinghurst Primary School for at least two years. Applications are considered annually. Deadline for application is end of February. Interviews take place in March. Recipients are asked to provide a report in August to be eligible for an additional instalment. Contact details for the charity can be found in the parish magazine.
    • Bun Penny Club – Pat Edwards, Chair – The charities origins began at The Bull pub (now Milkhouse) when the owners collected ‘bun pennies’ (which got their name from Queen Victoria’s hair that is gathered in a bun). At Christmas the pennies were shared between widows and widowers. By 1959 pennies were in short supply so a Christmas lunch at the Bull was arranged to carry on the tradition. The tradition is continued today by the fabulous committee that raise money (quiz nights, stalls at village fetes etc.) to provide a Christmas lunch for around 50 members, a £10 gift voucher at Christmas and a Summer tea party.
    • Trinity Café – Juliet Mellor explained that Cranbrook and District Age Concern had been set up by Ronnie Summers around 40 years ago. As well as outings and home visits, a weekly lunch was provided at the now closed borough council offices in the High Street. When the offices closed it was felt that Sissinghurst would benefit from a regular lunch, and the Trinity Café was formed. They are now held on the third Monday of each month. Except December when it is held on the second Monday. There are three sets of volunteers cooks and helpers who provide a 2-course lunch. There are more than 30 people on the mailing list. Since Covid, Age Concern has re-established itself in Cranbrook are providing a coffee morning, seated exercise and hearing aid clinics on a Tuesday morning. Trinity Café is to be brought back under the umbrella of Age Concern.
    • Men’s Shed – Liz McLaren, Secretary – The Wealden Men’s Shed opened on 21st March 2022 and has approximately 40 members. It’s a bit like your own shed, a place to pursue practical interests at leisure, to practice skills and enjoy making and mending. The difference is that pottering in your shed at home is often solitary in nature while the Men’s Shed is about building social connections and friendships, sharing skills and knowledge and lots of laughter! Thus, boosting mental and physical wellbeing. Sheds are open to anyone over the age of 18 and each Committee decides how they will be run and what they wish to do and achieve. A social group meet in Cranbrook on a Monday morning from 10 until about 12.30– either in the Coach House at Cranbrook School or in The George Hotel. Events include talks, short learning courses, a fete and promotion stall.  We held a Xmas day dinner in the Vestry Hall, Cranbrook, for people in and around the area, who would have otherwise been on their own on Xmas Day. Work in the community includes helping out in the Community Kitchen, visits to Hartley Care Home to play dominoes and cards with residents who live with Dementia and small DIY jobs. Plans for the year include the opening of our own workshop, storage space and outside working area at Cranbrook Rugby club, holding a talk on Prostate Cancer and running a short first aid course. For more details email:
    • Sissinghurst Scouts – Jan Ashley – Sissinghurst Scouts Trustee – Both Cranbrook and Sissinghurst have Scout groups. Sissinghurst Scout group would love to have a Scout hut with storage, as it would make running sessions a lot easier. Scouting is the largest youth organisation in the world. Its still based on the same principles as when it was founded of being a good citizen and taking a promise. You can join Squirrels at age 4 for boys and girls, and progress through Beavers, to Cubs, to Scouts. There is a trustee committee which would welcome more members. The groups meet in various places. In Summer its outside, in Winter either the Parish Rooms or Village Hall. Activities include camping, forest school type activities, skills for life. Contact details can be found in the Sissinghurst Parish magazine.
  5. To receive reports from Committee Chairmen:Chairman of Policy & Resources – Cllr. Garry Pethurst
    Cllr. Fletcher presented on behalf of Cllr. Pethurst who was unable to attend. The P&R committee is made up of the chairs of all the other committees, including the chair of the PC. It is, in effect, the Finance committee with responsibility for ensuring that the Council’s finances are managed prudently, to try to obtain best value for money for all our parishioners. I took over from Robin Beck last August with the cost-of-living crisis already having a serious impact. Since then, we have dealt with relatively minor issues, such as updating our Grant Award Policy and creating a formal policy to enable us to raise complaints against our suppliers, to major issues, such as trying to ensure that our electric vehicle charging points are managed in an economic and cost-effective manner. This latter has been made more challenging as a result of our electricity costs increasing almost fourfold this year. The resultant significant increase in the cost of EV charging may be unpopular with electric car owners, but we did not feel that parishioners would want us to be subsidising a relatively small sector. We are aware that everybody will be impacted is some way by the cost-of-living crisis, and the Parish Council was determined to try to do its bit to keep its impact down. Therefore, we took the decision to maintain the Precept at last year’s level by budgeting cautiously and, where necessary, using some of the reserves put by in previous years.Chairman of Properties & Burial Grounds – Cllr. Colin Gilbert
    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 continue to face the challenge of the increasing energy crisis so we are talking to an energy expert regarding the Vestry Hall Complex, this is to see if there is an alternative to the old central heating systems, lighting systems etc. with a view to consider the use of alternative technology. We have new thermal curtains ready to be installed into the Vestry Hall and we have with the assistance of the Conservation Officer found a company to install secondary glazing to the windows in the Hall, Kitchen, Balcony and corridor. This company has experience in providing sympathetic solutions in listed buildings. The type of frame and glass we will use will be almost invisible, colour coded to the existing and will greatly improve heat loss. Both Cemeteries are being maintained to a high standard. We monitor the public toilet facilities in Crane Lane and are pleased to say we have managed to keep the toilets open despite the attempts of vandalism. Our policy of keeping the toilets unlocked and open 24/7 has worked and will continue. Our thanks go to our cleaners who have done and continue to do a great job for us. We continue to monitor and make repair to the street lighting that we are responsible for. Looking forward we are exploring the possible installation of a stairlift up to the Vestry Hall and we are also looking to improve the cooking facilities in the kitchen.

    Chairman of Environmental Management – Cllr. Alan Kings
    Cllr. Kings was unable to attend. Cllr. Fletcher highlighted how important the free parking in Cranbrook is for the high street shops. With the new houses being built out of town, its more likely additional parking in town will be needed.

     Chairman of Planning & Preservation Management – Cllr. Alison Bunyan
    The Parish Council are statutory consultees, with TWBC the decision-making authority. The main responsibility of the committee is to consider and make comments on planning applications, appeals and other planning documents including consultations. We don’t do a lot of ‘Preservation’, but two members of the committee are members of Cranbrook Conservation Area Advisory Committee. A planning decision that should interest all is that the Secretary of State for Housing, Michael Gove, turned down Berkeley Homes application to build 165 houses adjacent to Turnden on various grounds, including, he considered the housing to be of ‘A generic suburban nature which does not reproduce the constituent elements of local settlements.  He also considers that the layout of the scheme does not respond to its AONB setting’.  That means the designs and layouts are not good enough and therefore do not justify sacrificing the Area of Outstanding Beauty.  These are two of the key criteria used by this planning committee, and seems the first time they have been used to refuse a planning application. The Parish Council wrote a local design guide, so Cranbrook seems to have led the way. Berkley are likely to change their plans and try again. We always send copies of our Eco Design Guide to developers (large or small) but really, they need to have the information before starting on the design.  The guide encourages PASSIVHAUS – no draughts, high insulation, triple glazing, little or no heating, making the most of the heat from the sun and preventing overheating.  T The Government needs to insist on the standards that can produce Eco housing and negative, zero or minimal carbon footprint.  It would be unlikely to increase costs greatly and the new homes would be a joy to live in and very easy on the purse. And finally, as always, thank you to the clerks who do a splendid job of interpreting our ramblings.

     Chairman of Neighbourhood Plan – Cllr. Garry Pethurst
    Cllr Fletcher presented on behalf of Cllr. Pethurst who was unable to attend. You may recall that, last year, I expressed my frustration at the slow pace of progress with the Neighbourhood Plan. Things are still moving slowly, but they are moving. We have worked with our Consultant and Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to bring the Plan to Examination, resulting in the Regulation 16 Consultation last September. Following this, an independent Examiner was appointed and his Clarification Note was received at the beginning of the year and, again working jointly with TWBC, a response was sent. Unfortunately, due to personal reasons, the Examiner has to take a brief pause in the process, but I am hopeful that further work will start soon towards bringing the plan to Referendum Stage in September.  It is worth remembering that the NDP is not about numbers of houses, or even where those houses are built, but it is about the quality of houses, how they help us create the community we want and need. It’s about getting the infrastructure right to make this a vibrant parish, welcoming to all, including business and all layers of society.

    Chairman of Community Development – Cllr. Lee Hatcher
    The committee’s aim is to promote events, tourism, social cohesion and facilitate community involvement. The committee has facilitated the reinstatement of the weekly Citizens Advice outreach sessions in Cranbrook Library. Looking forward the committee plans to develop effective liaison with outside bodies on car parking and traffic issues, create and develop Parish Voluntary Organisation liaison and develop a public consultation policy for the Council. The council has a Facebook page and more recently has Twitter and Instagram. An upcoming consultation will be for the formation of a Highways Improvement Plan (HIP). The next edition of Cake will introduce and explain the next steps. There will be opportunities for parishioners to come and identify areas of concern that can be considered for the HIP.

  1. Open Forum to ask questions of Cranbrook and Sissinghurst Parish Council

The Chairman thanked all the speakers from the organisations and the councillors for their committee reports.

He advised that sadly the Parish Council have an uncontested election this May. There are two empty seats (one for Sissinghurst and one for Cranbrook). Co-option will take place at the June Full Council meeting. Anyone wishing to apply should contact the Clerk.

He asked that parishioners forward any Sissinghurst story ideas for inclusion in the Cake to himself or Cllr. Carol Somers.

He then invited questions from the public.

A member of the public asked for clarification on the status of the GPs involvement in the community/medical centre. Cllr. Fletcher explained that The Old School and The Crane surgery had planned to merge and Dr Charlesworth would become a salaried GP. The merged practice would provide GP training, specialist clinics. Due to leasing issues The Crane Surgery and Old School Surgery merger is no longer going ahead. We are waiting to find out what will happen to The Crane Surgery.

Residents were pleased to hear about the development of a HIP.  A 20mph speed limit in the high-street was raised for inclusion in the HIP, as was more prominent entrance signs into the village. The NDP was also referred to for matters that had been raised previously.

In response to a question from a member of the public regarding the split of precept between Cranbrook and Sissinghurst, the RFO replied that this level of detail is not provided to Parish Councils, and suggested contacting Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.

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