PRESENT: Cllr. Fletcher (Chairman), Cllrs. Beck, Bunyan, Fairweather, Fermor, Gilbert, Hatcher, Kings, Rampling, Smith and Warne.
APOLOGIES: Cllrs. Dyke, Hartley, Pethurst and Waters.
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.
81/21: Minutes of the Previous Meeting to be confirmed:
The Chairman Proposed the Minutes of the Meeting held on the 9th September be adopted as a true record, this was seconded by Cllr. Fermor and agreed.
82/21: High Weald Academy Closure:
The Chairman reported that the public meeting called by Helen Grant MP last Friday, which was held in the Vestry Hall, was very well attended.
A virtual meeting of the action group had been held this evening. As a member of the group, Cllr. Hatcher advised of the two threads of action being pursued. The first being a legal challenge in the form of a Judicial Review of how the decision was taken. This is being looked at by lawyers specialising in education, to see if there is sufficient evidence to launch a case. He has been tasked with gathering information from local schools on pupil numbers and to encourage local people affected by the closure to come forward and make statements to say how this decision has affected them. Another meeting is scheduled for next Thursday.
The Chairman advised he is working on finding another academy trust to take the school on. There are nearly 300 pupils annually, looking for secondary education in the rural area, of those only 40 went to the HWA last year. At least 200 is needed for the school to be considered viable. Following a Freedom of Information request by Staplehurst Parish Council, we now know the decision to close the school was taken in February by Gavin Williamson. Although the Leigh Academy Trust Chief Executive has been involved in discussions about the school since last autumn, they had only received their letter of appointment on the 1st September this year. L.A.T were marketing the school to special needs children before teachers at the school were aware of the decision to close it as a non-selective secondary school.
The Chairman has been told by two other trusts he has spoken to that ‘the train has left the station’ and that the school will close. Forty more pupils left last week so there are only 230 enrolled at the school. He has tremendous sympathy with the parents and pupils affected and the damage being done to families in the wake of this decision. It is the Department of Education that bears the responsibility of the closure, not Kent County Council as academy trusts are run by central government. He is leaving the legal challenge to Helen Grant as this is her area of expertise, whilst he hopes to work with fellow councillors and the L.A.T to make the best of the situation as it currently stands. He invited questions.
In response to Cllr. Bunyan, he advised that the L.A.T cannot sell any of the land without approval from the Secretary of State for Education. The only occasion this has been approved before, is when the community benefitted directly.
Cllr. Fermor asked why the sixth form centre could not be used for the special education needs pupils and the rest of the school be used as a mainstream school? Cllr. Fletcher advised the six form centre was assessed as unsuitable because it is too small of and of its location on the site.
Cllr. Fairweather stated the closure was a very bad decision for Cranbrook. If a non-selective mainstream school is to succeed in the Town, then past issues need to be addressed. 75% of those eligible to attend the HWA in September chose to travel to other schools. The Chairman advised that all the funds KCC set aside to support schools with falling numbers has been taken by HWA in the last few years.
Cllr. Bunyan felt that the offer by Cranbrook School to help should have been accepted by the Department of Education, as it creates an ideal partnership. HWA need the leadership and management of Cranbrook School and they need additional buildings.
The Chairman reported he had been told the school farm would definitely be staying.
Cllr. Warne voiced concern that pupils needing to travel so far for a school was unsustainable and would result in non-sustainable friendships. She felt the vision for the school was needed long term which could include SEN pupils. She asked for clarification on what buildings on the site may be available for community use? The Chairman advised that L.A.T. had not earmarked the sixth form centre for use or the tennis courts, which they were not aware existed.
Cllr. Fairweather felt it important the tennis courts be kept for community use rather than be taken on by a private club. The Parish Council will get all the local sports clubs together to have a walk around with L.A.T. to see how the sports facilities could be used by the community. It was built as a Sports College, so the facilities available are superb.
The Chairman advised that L.A.T were in the process of submitting a planning application to alter the internal layout of the canteen area, to better suit the needs of the pupils that would be attending.
83/21: Community Centres/Medical Centre:
The Chairman advised that following a visit to the Southborough Hub, he had been invited to a meeting last Tuesday with the CCG, two of the three local GP’s and their practice managers. They are completely on board with the project and would like to see it built within three years.
Pembury Hospital are in the process of building a new teaching facility to teach doctors to become GP’s and they will be looking for local surgeries to support this. Local surgeries do not have sufficient space now, but could have, when the Medical Centre is built. It is a fact that the majority of doctors work within 40 miles of where they trained.
The government is talking about pushing diagnostic capability into the community, multi GP hubs will need extra space to take on that degree of speciality.
Dr Karthika will be leading on the project, on behalf of all the surgeries in Cranbrook. After agreement of the specification with the CCG, it will be sent to Jonathan White within the next six weeks to allow him to re-run the figures. The revised figures will go to the district valuer who will then be able to agree the rent. Building and material costs have increased significantly since the business case was initially written.
Cllr. Gilbert confirmed to Cllr. Bunyan that as soon as we have the GP’s specification, we can start to consider how we will appoint an architect. It was also confirmed the six-form centre at HWA did not have sufficient space to be used as a medical centre.
84/21: Social Media Policy:
Cllr. Hatcher referred to the draft Social Media Policy that had been circulated. He advised Members of a few minor amendments suggested by Cllr. Pethurst. He was happy to accept these as they did not affect the overall policy content. With these minor amendments agreed, he proposed adoption of the policy as presented, this was seconded by Cllr. Gilbert and agreed.
85/21: Queen’s Green Canopy:
The Chairman advised that TWBC are giving us the opportunity to be involved as a partner organisation in the tree planting initiative created to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022. Members discussed whether to accept some of the samplings on offer at no cost or whether to purchase a specimen tree at a subsidised rate. Cllr. Fairweather suggested purchasing two, one for Cranbrook and one for Sissinghurst. It was proposed by Cllr. Fletcher, seconded by Cllr. Fermor and agreed to purchase two specimen trees to mark this monumental occasion. Members agreed to delegate Cllr. Fermor to recommend the most suitable trees to purchase, from the list available.
Members also agreed to be listed in the guide for The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Beacons, 2nd June 2022. Who will light the beacon can be decided nearer the time?
86/21: Chairman’s Report:
The Chairman had reported most of his news under separate items already covered. He did suggest we need to consider how we can encourage people with school age children to become councillors. They would have a better insight of the education sector in the parish. We also need to consider how we can harness the anger and frustration felt over the closure of HWA into something positive for the community moving forward.
Reports from Committees:
87/21: Policy & Resources:
Cllr. Beck referred the meeting held 12th October and proposed adoption of the minutes. This was seconded by Cllr. Hatcher and agreed. Cllr. Hatcher also requested that his report on cyber security be circulated to all councillors, as the minutes of the meeting did not include the whole report.
88/21: Planning & Preservation:
Cllr. Smith referred to the minutes of the meetings held on 21st September and 5th October. He highlighted the application for the Glassenbury campsite which the Committee approved, to support tourism in the Parish.
He also highlighted the application on Land at Common Road, Sissinghurst. Although the Committee recommended approval, they expressed concern at the layout and the proposed access, which would require mitigation.
89/21: Properties & Burial Grounds:
Cllr. Gilbert advised the next meeting was scheduled for 26th October.
90/21: Economic & Community:
Cllr. Hatcher referred to the minutes of the meeting held on 21st September and the discussion regarding the website. He advised we now have two quotes for updating the website and to provide IT support. These can be compared to current costs and provision for the Policy and Resources Committee to make their recommendation to Full Council next month. He proposed adoption of the minutes, this was seconded by Cllr. Beck and agreed.
91/21: Environmental Management:
Cllr. Kings referred to the minutes of the meeting held 14th September and specifically to the recommendation to accept a quote from Proludic for £29,999 to replace the multiplay equipment on the Ball Field and £13,241 for the quote from Wicksteed to replace the toddler equipment on the Jubilee Field. A quote to remove the existing equipment being replaced from both sites had also been received, totalling £1,554. Members were advised that S106 monies were being sought for the Jubilee Field project and approximately £12,750 would need to be used from cash reserves to fund the new equipment on the Ball Field, unless any S106 requests already submitted were successful in securing funds.
Cllr. Kings proposed adoption of the minutes to include acceptance of the play equipment quotes, this was seconded by Cllr. Smith and agreed.
92/21: Neighbourhood Development Plan:
Cllr. Warne reported that the Regulation 16 version has now been submitted to TWBC and it will be up to them to hold the next round of consultation.
Cllr. Fletcher enquired as to whether an addendum was needed, because of the material change to Cranbrook from the closure of HWA? Cllr. Warne advised that what had changed as a result of the closure was some of the information in the TWBC Local Plan. She would seek advice when she attends the Planning Policy Working Group meeting next week as to whether the NDP requires any amendment because of the closure. Cllr. Fairweather was of the impression that there were less than six working days until the TWBC Local Plan is submitted and no further changes will be considered at this late stage.
Cllr. Warne proposed adoption of the minutes of the meeting held 27th September, this was seconded by Cllr. Kings and agreed.
93/21: Delegate Reports:
a) Age Concern:
The Chairman advised he had met with Juliet Mellor and she was planning a thank you party for Roni and David Summers, as they step down from their pivotal roles within the organisation; details to be released later.
b) Tourism Group:
Cllr. Hatcher advised the group met yesterday, the minutes of which will be released shortly.
The Church is planning a question and answer session at 7pm on the 8th December to talk about the future of St. Dunstan’s in the Community.
c) John Spicer Apprenticing Trust:
Cllr. Fermor advised the Trust continues to distribute funds for those needing help to purchase text books. There were three new applicants and four returning for their second tranche of funding. The maximum grant awarded is normally around £250.
Cllr. Bunyan advised CCAAC now have a new secretary, Linda Hall. Marion Cranmer has also offered assistance when necessary.
Cllr. Bunyan referred to the draft minutes of the meeting held on 22nd September which had already been circulated and gave a precis of the discussions that took place.
It was agreed the Parish Council would write to Peter Allen to thank him for his efforts on the Committee, for the last forty years. Cllr. Bunyan agreed to help the Clerk compose a letter.
e) Hop Picker’s Line Heritage Group:
The Chairman read out the following report from Graham Holmes:
The Group met in Goudhurst on the 21st September.
Referring to the outstanding issues regarding the bridge structure and cutting between the former Cranbrook Station and Badgers Oak Tunnel, the Group are still in communication with Historical Railways Estates and David Scully of TWBC. There is nothing further to report at the moment.
The Group attended the Horsmonden Nostalgia Day and received very favourable feedback regarding the Interpretation Panel on the village green.
The walk around Goudhurst on the 19th September attracted a number of visitors who were able to view some of the surviving structures on that part of the old route. One of the proposed housing developments in Paddock Wood will be very close to the old route and the developer will be made aware that the line is protected within the TWBC Local Plan.
The Annual General Meeting is planned for Tuesday the 16th November in Goudhurst. Further details to follow.
94/21: Parish Representative for King George V & Citizen’s Advice Bureau:
Cllr. Smith was stepping down in his role as representative for the King George V & Citizen’s Advice Bureau. Neither role was onerous. Cllr. Rampling offered to take his place as the representative for the King George V Field and Cllr. Hatcher offered to take on the role for Citizen’s Advice Bureau.
95/21: Clerk’s Report:
The Clerk advised we have received a copy of the Dence & Weller Charity accounts, which is filed in the office should anyone wish to inspect it. She also reminded members of the upcoming KALC AGM should any members wish to attend.
There was no correspondence to report.
97/21: Borough Councillor Reports:
a) Cllr. Warne reported that TWBC Planning Committee had approved the Paddock Wood Community Centre, on the Memorial Field. The decision had been received well by some of the community but not everyone was in favour of the location.
She advised there was a one off collection of garden waste scheduled for the week commencing 18th October. Subscribers to the service should receive an email giving them 24 hours’ notice to put their bins out.
She advised that following the consultation undertaken by TWBC on the electoral system, the Council had voted for everything to stay the same i.e. for election by thirds and the number of councillors to remain the same. If the Electoral Commission accepts this, it will result in a change of ward boundaries.
She also reported on the sad death of Julian Stanyer. He had been a borough councillor for the Speldhurst and Bidborough ward for many years and would be greatly missed. His funeral is being held next week. A by-election has been called to take place on 25th November, to fill the vacancy.
b) Cllr. Fairweather explained more on the ward changes that could occur. The only element the Council can dictate, is how the elections are held. The Council voted to stay the same with the proviso that each ward would have three members, although the make up of the wards will be the Electoral Commission’s decision. He felt it would be the rural communities that would lose out and was personally disappointed by the result. The Council has no say over the number of councillors and although they have asked for the number to stay the same, the feedback received to date, suggests the number will be reduced.
He also expanded on the issues of waste collection. Of the forty-seven crews operating out of the borough, there are only twenty-two drivers. Fortunately, we are not in the same position as Brighton, in that we do not have waste piling up on the streets.
There is a cross party group looking at the Town Hall, how it is being used and how it is refurbished? It could be that co-working is reintroduced as a source of income?
Construction on the Amelia Scott building has been completed and has been handed over for the fit-out, ready for the official opening in Spring 2022.
The Local Plan has been completed and will be submitted before the end of October.
He gave an update on refugees from Afghanistan. Initially TWBC had pledged to find homes for five families and had hoped to be able to increase this to ten. However, to date we have not been allocated any families as yet and have only received one offer of a three-bedroom property. Landlords, letting agents and empty properties will continue to be targeted to identify suitable homes.
98/21: Items for Information:
a) Cllr. Beck reported the new floodlights are being installed at Sissinghurst Tennis Club which is being facilitated via a Sports England grant through the Parish Council.
b) Cllr. Hatcher reported he had attended a three hour zoom presentation by KALC on Project Management on Saturday, which was worthwhile.
c) Cllr. Gilbert was saddened by the condition of the Weald Sports Centre after a recent visit. Cllr. Fairweather offered to pass on the concerns to the centre management.
d) Cllr. Warne reported the Turnden Inquiry had restarted this morning; she is due to give her evidence next Friday.
e) Cllr. Smith commented he was very impressed with the Cranbrook Apple Fayre especially considering the awful weather conditions. He felt we should record our thanks to the organisers.
f) Cllr. Fletcher reported the grass and hedge cutting has started on the Brick Kiln Farm site.
The Meeting was closed.
A parishioner raised several points, one of which was to highlight the need to secure the provision of public toilets in the Town. She also suggested the HWA farm could be utilised as a plant based agricultural college. She was advised the provision of toilets in the Town continues to be a priority and several options are being considered.
Another member of the public enquired as to whether any feedback had been received from pupils now having to travel to Mascalls. It was confirmed none had been received as yet.