MINUTES OF A MEETING OF THE PARISH COUNCIL HELD IN VESTRY HALL, CRANBROOK, ON THURSDAY 14th SEPTEMBER 2023
Public Participation – A member of the public attending asked the Parish Council to put a great emphasis on helping to get a replacement for Rainbows Pre-School. They had also heard that Mascalls School in Paddock Wood were not able to accommodate anymore children from Cranbrook in this academic year.
The Chairman advised there is a public meeting being held in the Vestry Hall on the 4th October at 2pm and then again at 7.45pm to discuss the education crisis in the rural area. Cllr. Fairweather also added the Conservative candidate for the new electoral ward of Weald of Kent, was also hoping to attend.
PRESENT: Cllrs. Fletcher (Chair), Bunyan, Fairweather, Gilbert, Hatcher, Mills, Pethurst, Somers, Stone, Swenson and Tomlinson. County Cllr. Holden
60/23: APOLOGIES: Cllrs. Kings, Newman, Page and Selby. Borough Cllrs. Dawlings and Warne.
61/23: Declaration of Interests, Dispensations and Predetermination:
The Chairman read out the following statement:
Members are required to declare any interests, dispensations or predetermination on items on this agenda in accordance with the Council’s Code of Conduct. Members are reminded that changes to the Register of Interests should be notified to the Clerk. The meeting is routinely recorded as a clerk’s aid.
62/23: To approve and sign as a correct record the minutes of the Full Council held 10th August 2023
The Chairman referred to the minutes of the Parish Council Meeting held on 10th August 2023 that had been circulated before the meeting by the Clerk. It was noted that a line in the second paragraph of the second page was incomplete. Following this being written in by the Chairman, they were agreed for accuracy and proposed for acceptance by Cllr. Fletcher. This was seconded by Cllr. Bunyan, voted for unanimously by those present at that meeting and signed by the Chair.
63/23: To resolve to re-apply for Quality Award status through the Local Council Award Scheme.
Members had been sent a guide from NALC and a report compiled by the Clerk which gave an overview of the Local Council Award Scheme. The Chairman felt that the award sets us apart from many smaller parishes and proves we are a competent body. With this in mind he proposed Cranbrook & Sissinghurst Parish Council re-apply for Quality Status when our current certification expires. This was seconded by Cllr. Fairweather and agreed.
64/23: Community/Medical Centre:
The Chairman reported an update had been published in the Autumn edition of The Cake. As interest rates have risen from 1% to 5.25% and building costs have doubled, the project is no longer viable with the current business plan. The local GP’s and the NHS are still very keen to see a medical centre in Cranbrook.
With the new teaching unit at Tunbridge Wells Hospital, they will need local vacancies for the doctors. He reiterated that the Parish Council exists to serve the parishioners, and the two most important things to them are health and education. He suggested that councillors dedicate a separate meeting on this one item to discuss the issues and options available. Cllr. Bunyan voiced her disappointment with the current situation but was pleased the Chairman had sufficient enthusiasm to keep going.
65/23: Chairman’s Report:
The Chairman referred to the article in The Cake entitle ‘Cranbrook Education in Crisis’ and the public meeting being held in the Vestry Hall. Two meetings have been scheduled to accommodate parents of both primary and secondary school age children. Several Chairmen from surrounding parishes that have been affected by the closure of the High Weald Academy are also attending to lend their support. Kent County Council and Members of Parliament need to hear our concerns. At the suggestion of Cllr. Tomlinson, the Chairman agreed to also invite representatives from both Mascalls and Homewood Schools. As a parish council we need to help motivate and galvanise people into action.
The Chairman also raised the issue of the KCC Family Hub Consultation, which he is concerned will put all the services into Tunbridge Wells removing them from the rural areas. Youth is the seed corn of the future and we must fight to keep youth services local.
66/23: Approval of Committee Reports as detailed below:
a) Policy & Resources:
Cllr. Pethurst referred to the minutes of the meeting held on the 12th September 2023. He highlighted the major expenditure of the deposit paid for the secondary glazing in the Vestry Hall which was £14,450.
He also referred to the cyber insurance cover discussed at the meeting. The lack of any cover had been raised previously by the internal auditor. Approval to take out standard cover to comply with the audit recommendation was agreed. We will continue to investigate the benefits.
The contract for the electrical supply of Sissinghurst public toilets was deferred until more research was undertaken to establish usage. The consumption being quoted appeared to be excessive and needed to be checked before we commit to taking out a fixed contract.
Cllr. Pethurst proposed the minutes of the meeting held on 12th September be adopted; this was seconded by Cllr. Hatcher and agreed.
b) Planning & Preservation:
Cllr. Bunyan presented the minutes of the meeting held 15th August and 5th September 2023 and invited questions. Cllr. Fletcher advised he had received a call about the proposal for a solar farm within the parishes of Benenden and Hawkhurst. Part of the designated area is also in our parish so he hopes that if the application comes before us for comment, the committee will find out more.
Cllr. Hatcher referred to the Snowfields application, on which the committee continue to recommend refusal, because the applicant has not responded to our concerns or that of the Highways Department.
Their application includes demolishing the auditorium to create a route through the car park for taxis and for additional parking which in the opinion of the Committee had not been justified.
c) Properties and Burials:
Cllr. Gilbert advised the next meeting was scheduled for October 24th.
d) Community Development:
Cllr. Hatcher advised the next meeting was scheduled for 26th September.
e) Environmental Management:
Cllr. Fairweather thanked his committee for agreeing to amend the time of the meeting being held next Tuesday, which allows him to attend an earlier meeting he has scheduled.
f) Neighbourhood Plan:
Cllr. Pethurst referred to the Referendum being held today and encouraged everyone to exercise their democratic right to vote. They had received a lot of positive feedback. Concerns had been raised that the question is ambiguous and some people have misunderstood it, also some who had registered for postal votes had not received them. The polls close at 10pm tonight. Everyone at the meeting echoed the Chairman’s thanks to Cllr. Pethurst and his wife who had done a sterling job in advertising the referendum. Cllr. Pethurst thanked everyone that had helped them. The result will go to Full Council at Tunbridge Wells for ratification in October, although Cllr. Pethurst hoped planning officers would take the plan into account immediately, in the same way that take the emerging Local Plan into account.
67/23: Delegate Reports:
a) Tourism Group:
Cllr. Hatcher advised the next meeting is scheduled for later this month.
Cllr. Hatcher advised the next meeting is scheduled for 27th September.
c) St. George’s Institute:
Cllr. Fairweather reported that the building had now been demolished and the land levelled. Building is scheduled to start on Monday. Double yellow lines have been painted in front of the old entrance to stop drivers blocking the access. He has retrieved several of the green corrugated panels, which is hoped will be used in a piece of artwork, that will represent the original building.
d) Age Concern:
The Chairman reported that ‘Toasty Tuesdays’ were back up and running. They are also offering help with hearing aids during the Coffee Morning.
e) King George The V Field:
Cllr. Stone reported that she had attended a recent meeting and been advised that a third representative from The Parish Council was needed to comply with their constitution. Cllr Fairweather’s offer to accept the post was gratefully accepted.
f) The Museum:
Cllr. Pethurst reported he had attended a recent meeting.
The Museum Committee were pleased at the increased number visiting the attraction, they had had quite a few good-sized group’s visiting this year. They had recently installed a ‘tap and pay’ device strategically positioned by the door for donations, which has proved it’s worth after just a month. During the closed season plans are being formulated to add extra audio-visual displays, which is being supported by the borough council.
g) Katharine Elisabeth Wood:
Cllr. Hatcher reported on the A.G.M which was held in August. The trustees had met the new church warden and discussed finances. The new vicar of St. Dunstan’s will take over as Chair of the Charity when he arrives in post. Apparently, he left his home in Edmonton, Canada today.
h) Hop Pickers Line Heritage Group:
Cllr. Fletcher read out a statement from Graham Holmes: With regard to the Planning Application at Cranbrook Station, TWBC have placed a condition on the approval that signage and interpretation material must be provided to raise awareness on local heritage and tourism, explaining the role of the former Paddock Wood to Hawkhurst railway.
As a result, the Hop Pickers Line Heritage Group have been in communication with the applicant to offer their assistance in the provision of materials necessary to comply with the conditions.
These conditions have not previously been imposed on any other sites relative to the route of the former railway.
68/23: Clerks Report:
The Clerk was very pleased to report we had received the conclusion to our audit from the external auditor, Mazars LLP. There were issues raised.
69/23: Correspondence: Nothing to report.
70/23: County and Borough Councillor Reports:
a) County Cllr. Holden reported that the Deputy Cabinet Member for Education and Skills, Cllr. Sarah Hamilton was intending to attend the public meeting on education in October. The Cabinet Member Rory Love was unable to attend but has agreed to a meeting with officers and interested parties at a date, yet to be agreed. He reported on the Councils finances which were not as bad as many principal councils in the UK. There are however, some discretionary services that are at risk. Adult social care has long threatened to overwhelm the Council, now along with transport for pupils with special educational needs and disabilities. There are many examples where it is costing £80 per day to get these children to school and Kent has a higher than average number of special education needs. The Council has only one tax for revenue and that is Council Tax which comes with its own constraints. The Parish Chairman felt that a lot of services are being cut back marginally whereas sometimes its better to cut something completely, but do other things superbly, an example being youth services.
He attended a meeting today of the Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee, at which potholes were discussed. There are five times more than were reported last year which is apparently due to the very wet weather last winter being followed by freezing conditions.
He also reported on the amount of road closures in the county which had risen from 4,000 in 2019 to 12,000 a year now.
The roads are being closed for the benefit of the contractors rather than for the convenience of the residents. He gave an example of Golford Road which is being closed for repairing potholes which in his opinion did not necessitate the whole road being closed as one side could be done at a time under a traffic management system. A post has been created in the Highways Department for an inspector to look at applications more closely to avoid unnecessary closures.
Kent Mineral Sites Plan has put out a second call for sites after 25,000 people objected to the only site previously put forward.
Kent’s Plan Bee which he started ten years ago has been recognised with a national award for the leading policy in the Country.
b) Borough Cllr. Fairweather stated he did not have much to add from the Town Hall. He advised visitors to be very wary when visiting Tunbridge Wells. The bus gate/lane restriction on Mount Pleasant Road has seen 29,000 tickets issued to drivers generating £2m in revenue for the Council. Parking charges in Dunorlan Park are also due to be introduced in October.
The Chairman read out the following report from
c) Borough Cllr. Dawlings: The formal opening of the Paddock Wood Community Centre was on 3rd September. The pre-school is yet to move in but otherwise the operation is fully underway.
At TWBC the draft audit report has just been published. This shows a surplus for the year to 31st March 2023 with significant funds channelled into reserves. That is what he had expected in Summer 2022 rather than the ‘black hole’ regularly being claimed by the incoming administration. There are, of course, challenges ahead for all Councils (Birmingham recently announced it can no longer cover outgoings and that will not be the last) but TWBC’s financial position is stronger than most Councils.
As Chair of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee, he has been in touch with South East Water and they will attend the November meeting of the Committee. His focus will be on asking them to explain the supply failures and how they are building more resilience into the system.
He hopes the NDP referendum had gone well with a decent turnout. The four allocated sites in Benenden NDP now seem to be progressing pretty much in accordance with the housing numbers and densities required by the Benenden NDP which makes the work preparing the NDP worthwhile and especially their decision to allocate sites for development.
71/23: Items for Information:
Cllr. Bunyan reported the Sissinghurst Flower Show Society Autum Show was being held at the Primary School at 2.30pm on Saturday.
Cllr. Swenson reported he had received several complaints from visitors to the Old School and Crane Surgeries about parking issues. He had been told it was our responsibility, The Chairman advised him the parking for the surgeries was the responsibility of the surgeries.
Cllr. Fairweather advised he was organising a litter pick in Sissinghurst for Saturday 30th September. Cllr. Hatcher offered to organise one for Cranbrook on the same day. Cllr. Fairweather would liaise with the Clerks regarding the risk assessments and equipment.
Cllr. Fletcher reported that he and the Clerk were now having regular meetings with Hill Development on a monthly basis, the next being on the 22nd September.
If anyone has any issues they wish to raise with the developer, they should let him know. Cllr. Mills house backs onto the site, she asked that the tradesmen working on the site be asked to moderate their language, as it can be heard quite clearly in her back garden. Cllr. Fletcher agreed to raise this with them. Apparently, the developer is desperate to employ apprentice trades people and are struggling to fulfil the positions. On the 28th and 29th September, Angley Road will be closed to traffic while the new layout is white lined.
He also reported he was meeting the new Headmaster of Cranbrook School tomorrow.