MINUTES OF A MEETING OF THE PARISH COUNCIL HELD IN VESTRY HALL, CRANBROOK ON THURSDAY 8th DECEMBER 2022
PRESENT: Cllrs. Fletcher (Chair), Bunyan, Dyke, Gilbert, Hartley (in part), Hatcher, Mills, Pethurst, Rampling, Simpson, Somers and Stone
APOLOGIES: Cllrs. Fairweather, Kings, Tomlinson and Borough Councillor Warne
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.
110/22: Minutes of the Previous Meeting to be confirmed:
The Chairman proposed the Minutes of the meeting held on the 10th of November 2022 be adopted as a true record, this was seconded by Cllr. Gilbert and agreed.
111/22: Preparation for Kings Coronation:
The Chairman referred to a segment in the latest edition of The Cake asking for residents to contact the Parish Council with ideas they might have for celebrating the Coronation. A suggestion from a resident of Sissinghurst had been received for memorial benches on footpaths between Sissinghurst and Cranbrook. Cranbrook Sports Club are planning a Weald Rural Games on one of the weekends in-between the Coronation and Nuts in May.
The Chairman suggested all the local Coronation events be listed on the Parish Council website.
112/22: Community and Medical Centre:
Cllr. Gilbert reported that the documents enabling the Parish Council to use the Kent County Council procurement framework had been received and processed. He also informed that there is an article in The Cake inviting people to get involved with fundraising and also with developing the final design. He was pleased to report a response had already been received from a lady with experience in designing medical centres. The next board meeting is arranged for Monday 12th December.
In response to a question from Cllr. Bunyan, Cllr. Gilbert replied that the current plan is to start engaging with contractors in the framework in February 2023.
Cllr. Hatcher enquired if the names of the contractors are known. Cllr. Fletcher replied that the four companies are listed in the procurement document that is available on the Parish Council website.
Cllr. Simpson asked if organisations such as Age Concern can be involved in developing the design. Cllr Fletcher responded positively and that their input would be welcomed.
113/22: Chairman’s Report
Cllr Fletcher read out the following report:
Attended the Chairman’s Meeting with TWBC, looking at their budget.
They have several issues: 40 job vacancies unfilled, inflation on contracts of 16%, a £1.4 million hole in their budget, with increases capped at 3%, a tax base where 30% of all homes get a 25% reduction in council tax due to single person occupation.
Looking at the census change over the last decade TWBC has grown in homes by 0.3%, the lowest in Kent bar one. Dartford grew 20%.
Government funding is distributed on the growth of an area, so we are at the wrong end of the investment queue.
As a Parish we need to immerse ourselves in the latest census data as we have some serious funding issues about to face us. I need some help with this task so please let me know if you are a whiz with statistics.
Cllr Gilbert has already brought you up to speed with the community and medical centre, but there is another investment that needs to be made.
Colin, Lori and I had a virtual meeting with the Leigh Academy Trust board director who is responsible for Snowfields Academy, Debbie Biggenden.
The school is for severely autistic children from across the county of Kent. 97% of them are not expected to ever work. A couple of local children have met the criteria for entry, currently there are 48 pupils, all taxied in from every corner of Kent.
There will not be a PTA due to the far-flung nature of the pupils, and about the only community interaction I could see was primary schools visiting the farm.
Regarding truancy in Cranbrook she suggested we contact KCC children’s services: local children go to any of 4 schools, but no-one is taking responsibility for local truancy.
Leigh is appointing an agent to look at letting buildings, but she expects they will be too expensive due to energy costs. Rainbow have tried hard to rent the Sixth form building to no avail.
The three of us on the call came away with the impression of a corporate takeover of the property, which will be a ‘Castle on the Hill’. I hope I am mistaken.
At the chairman’s meeting, the update of the local plan was presented by Ellen Gilbert.
I realised that the Local Plan had been written and submitted before the High Weald closure, so I have written to her with an overview of the current situation.
There was always a thought that we need a replacement local school for the 1000 students who go elsewhere for their education.
I am delighted to inform you that a meeting with the regional schools’ commissioner will take place in the New Year, and strings are being pulled at the Department of Education to implant the idea of a new school for when new funding eventually comes up.
This may become a political issue, so we should lobby potential MPs for Maidstone and the Weald at this early stage to put it on their radar.
TWBC are going to meet as well, particularly with regard to a school on Long Field, rather than the current plan for 35 homes that is at appeal.
We will need to understand the data from the census like no-one else, so we can construct the argument for a new school using the government’s own data.
Now you see why I appeal for help to understand the census!
At the last meeting Joy Temple made an excellent suggestion that we should look at capital projects at a time of high inflation to ensure we make the most of our reserves. No idea is too wacky!
I am delighted that Cllr Gilbert is exploring solar panels on the Vestry Hall roof, high quality secondary glazing in the Vestry Hall, along with the new curtains, that are being sewn at the moment.
Other ideas are a seating area on the Ball Field for the Coronation Memorial. Another is an upgraded footpath from the Rugby (Sports) Club into the centre of town to enable their car park to be used by workers / students.
Please rack your brains for ideas that we would not normally consider and discuss them in your committees.
The new edition of Cake has now come out, thanks to Carol Somers, Tally Wade, Julian Flanders, and of course Trisha Fermor – the theme has been volunteering and the next edition will be the election.
With regard to the election, I would like to have a couple of meetings in the new year to explore the challenges we face, and what we might do to mitigate them so that potential councillors know that we look far and wide for the future of our community.
I have produced a ‘straw man’ of the issues as I see them, but that does not mean they are right or are well expressed. It is not a finished document, but it may form the basis for a discussion. Are you happy that I find a couple of dates in January for a round table discussion?
Will Chuter, the headmaster of Cranbrook school is leaving at the end of the school year.
We no longer have PCSOs, our chap, Tom Costin, has gone to be trained as a Constable
Ant Tomlinson won the ‘Love where you live’ award for his amazing achievements with the junior football club,
We will need money for the future, so we need to be experts at fund raising.
Please come to the webinar on Fund raising on Monday at 7.30pm and help put our overall strategy together.
Approval of Committee Reports as detailed below:
114/22: Policy & Resources:
Cllr. Pethurst referred to the minutes of the meeting held on the 6th December and highlighted the budget and precept discussions.
The committee had felt that it’s likely residents will face increased council tax bills from KCC, Police, TWBC etc and therefore had taken the decision not to raise the parish council precept, and will instead use reserves as and when needed.
He also highlighted that the council’s energy contracts expire in March 2023. Utility Aid is assisting in looking for alternatives. Unfortunately, quotes are only applicable on the day they are provided. This doesn’t suit the committee approach for authorising decisions, therefore Cllr. Pethurst and the RFO, Lori Ham, have been delegated responsibility to secure new contracts.
Cllr. Pethurst moved to propose that the minutes, and therefore the budget proposals, be adopted. This was seconded by Cllr. Bunyan and agreed.
115/22: Planning & Preservation:
Cllr. Bunyan referred to the minutes of the meetings held 15th November and 6th December.
She highlighted the application at Crossways, Sissinghurst that had been discussed at the 15th November meeting. The committee had recommend refusal for an outline application for 3 self-build units. There were several reasons for the recommendation, including the impact on the nearby listed building.
116/22: Community Development:
Cllr. Hatcher proposed adoption of the minutes of the meeting held on November 22nd. This was seconded by Cllr. Gilbert and agreed.
Cllr. Hatcher advised that the start time for future committee meetings will be 5.30pm.
117/22: Environmental Management:
Cllr. Pethurst highlighted the gap in reimbursements vs electricity costs for the EV points. He was minded to present BP Pulse an invoice for the outstanding amount, and pursue through the Small Claims court if necessary.
Cllr. Dyke reported that it had been agreed to replace the bollard on the Ball Field with a low-level barrier.
Cllr. Fletcher proposed adoption of the minutes, this was seconded by Cllr. Gilbert and agreed.
118/22: Neighbourhood Plan:
Cllr. Pethurst reported that Andrew Ashcroft had been appointed as the independent examiner. He has experience of several other local plans in the area. It’s expected he will visit the parish next week anonymously.
Cllr Hatcher enquired of the timeline, and asked if the referendum could take place at the same time as the May elections? Cllr. Pethurst did not have a definitive timeline, but thought that it would be a great idea if timings allowed.
119/22: Delegate Reports:
a) Age Concern:
Cllr. Simpson reported that Chair Keep Fit is going well. Cramp Club are hosting a Christmas lunch for Age Concern on Friday 16th December.
b) Community Kitchen:
Cllr. Fletcher reported that Wellbeing in the Weald will be taking over as organisers. Plans are underway to begin offering a hot meal for children on Tuesday afternoons. This will initially be by invitation based on suggestions from the school offices.
c) Hop Pickers Line Heritage Group: Cllr. Fletcher read out a report from Graham Holmes:
The Group have decided to seek clarification from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council following its decision to approve the Planning Application at the Cranbrook Station site.
The Borough Local Plan currently protects the former railway track bed from development but the Application infringes this condition.
An earlier report that part of the cutting between Cranbrook Station and Badgers Oak tunnel would be subject to infilling now appears to have been withdrawn. National Highways (who are responsible for former railway structures) has recently lost an appeal in Cumbria at a site where infill had already taken place.
Cllr Hatcher reported that the committee had discussed asking the Parish Council to assist with the outstanding issue of the yellow lines and the damaged railings on the Hill.
Cllr. Bunyan reported that the group are keen to have access to the building standards on local new building sites. It’s been noted that despite promises of mitigation, Brick Kiln site looks to have been cleared with no concern for wildlife. A conversation with the Enforcement Officer at TWBC planning department should take place.
In response to clarification from Cllr. Pethurst, Cllr Hatcher explained that SPAB is an acronym for Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
120/22: Elect a representative to the John Spicer’s Apprenticing Trust:
Cllr. Gilbert stepped forward, unchallenged, to take on the role as Parish Council representative to the Trust.
No correspondence had been received that required reporting.
122/22: Borough & County Councillor Reports:
a) Cllr. Dawlings reported that there is uncertainty over the proposed Tudeley Village development of 2,100 houses, due to insufficient justification for a rural settlement of the size proposed. The development had included access to funding for schools, including funds to Paddock Wood, which is therefore now under threat.
KCC will be increasing their proportion of the council tax bill by 5% due to growing costs for adult social care.
Expanding on comments in the Chairman’s report related to funding at TWBC, Cllr Dawlings advised that TWBC raises c£20M income from services and c£8.5M from council tax, annually.
The 40 job vacancies reported at the council had resulted in cost savings, and income from car parking had increased with increasing visitor numbers, as had income on cash assets due to increased interest rates.
At a meeting on Wednesday, TWBC Members will be discussing elections options: all-out or by thirds. Cllr Dawlings is hoping for all-out elections as it is his opinion that this is more democratic. It is also cost saving.
Cllr Dawlings has secured a Members Grant from County Cllr. Holden to reprint the Walk-Through Time maps.
123/22: Items for Information:
The Meeting was closed.
Cllr. Hatcher reminded everyone that tickets for the pantomime are available.