Somerford Keynes Parish Council’s Report.

You may wonder why I’ve included a report about Somerford Keynes Parish Council on this website. I have just completed six years on the council, the last few as Chair. I have been surprised by the complexity of the dynamics that I’ve tried to understand and withstand. There is inevitably a turnover of people on local councils and in a small village like ours some of the residents have previously served on the council and might well know more about the work of the council than some of the present incumbents. This is not dissimilar to what I’ve previously observed in group living staff teams where experienced staff members can be a vital source of support and a role model to new staff members. However, this experience can sometimes be used negatively to “squash” the enthusiasm of the novice. In my report you will notice that I’m reminding the village to show some patience and kindness towards the new people on the council who will need time to “find their feet”.

Parish Council’s Report for the Annual Parish Meeting, May 2023.

As the work of the previous Parish Council has ended, following the local elections, I will try to summarise what was achieved and the contextual factors we had to face.

The first thing to remember is that there was an election for the PC four years ago as eight people stood for the seven places on the council. As there were four new members of the Council we decided to do a village survey to ascertain what the village wanted us to do. We had a pretty good response with 94 completed surveys. The need for a bus shelter was the most popular request. This we haven’t achieved as the expense was prohibitive with our limited funds. However, the new PC might like to reconsider this as the coffers have been considerably increased by the Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) money.

The respondents also expressed concern about speeding traffic through the village. We have applied for a speed camera and it looks as though this may come to fruition through the Gloucestershire speed watch scheme. We also arranged for new gateway signs to be installed at the entrances to the village. This was heavily subsidised by Gloucestershire.

Families with young children also suggested a play area. This was always going to be difficult as we don’t have the land, apart from the Parish Field which is in the wrong place. However, the new play area at Neigh Bridge, installed by the Cotswold Lakes Trust, fulfils that need especially now that the cycleway has been extended to Neigh Bridge, creating a safe route for parents with pushchairs. I should say that this cycleway was completed in part due to the Parish Council over many years highlighting the need for this to be done.

Neighbridge Country Park continues to be both a pleasure for the Parish and a pain. The COVID pandemic and the consequent lockdown and the limitations on travel made Neigh Bridge more popular than ever. At the same time many parts of the Water Park became more security conscious. Lower Mill Estate installed fencing and locked gates to the lake nearest the village and Keynes Park did much the same thing which resulted in more people using the unrestricted Neigh Bridge. The resulting problems with parking, anti-social behaviour, and litter were highlighted by the Parish Council at the multi-agency meetings which were convened to try and solve the problems in the Water Park. However, there are no easy solutions to any of these problems and it looks like we will have to cope with this as best we can during the summer months.

During lockdown, and for sometime after restrictions were eased, we were not permitted to have face to face PC meetings. We discovered the joys of Zoom meetings! I took out a Zoom subscription, for about £14 a month, which meant we could have unrestricted meetings, both in terms of the number of people attending and the length of time the meetings lasted, as the free version had a cut off after 40 minutes. During lockdown we had fortnightly, shorter meetings so that we could respond more quickly to whatever emerged. I thought that the Zoom meetings were more democratic as more people “attended” than usual and everyone was on the same screen with no obvious hierarchy.

When we had to return to face to face meetings in the Village Hall, in mid-2021, we had got out of the usual routines and made some mistakes in procedure which were picked up by some parishioners who had been on the PC themselves. That coupled with losing our established Parish Clerk and recruiting a new person to that role, Kristy Josey, plus the retirement of Roger Sleeman after 42 years experience on the PC, inevitably had a similar effect. In my opinion it takes a good two years to find your feet on the PC during which you learn what you are responsible for and who to go to in the County Council and District Council to get things done. This needs to be born in mind for this new PC as several new members will need to be co-opted so I think some patience and kindness is needed while new councillors become established.

I am proud of the fact that the PC successfully nominated Roger Sleeman for an honour upon his retirement from the PC especially as it was announced in the Queen’s last birthday honours list. I believe this was a first for Somerford Keynes. It’s also worth mentioning that upon the death of Her Majesty the Queen the PC sent a letter of condolence to King Charles and received a very appreciative reply from him. Both letters are on the SK website.

Pretty much throughout the life of the last PC we had the contentious planning application for the land to be developed to the south-east of Ashland House. The PC, along with many parishioners, strongly objected to this application, largely on the grounds that it is completely at odds with the recently formally ratified Neighbourhood Development Plan. We are still waiting for a decision on this application.

In contrast to our noisy neighbour, Neigh Bridge, our own Village Lake has been an oasis of peace and tranquillity. The PC has continued to fund its maintenance and development and we much appreciate the work of the Village Lake Committee and the volunteers for making it such an attractive venue.

There were two years, 2020 and 2021, when we couldn’t hold the village litter pick because of the restrictions and risks involved. I’m pleased to say we successfully reinstated it in 2022 and it took place again this year in March. I think it’s worth saying that in the years when we couldn’t hold a village event several people did there own litter pick when out walking. Litter continues to be a problem with the mindless throwing of plastic bottles and cans out of vehicles onto the verges and into ditches. We’ve also had several serious incidents of fly tipping especially along Ewen Lane. At least the reporting of them seems to lead to a quick clearing up.

Last year several people asked the PC to do something about the hedge in Water Lane which had been neglected for years. To re-lay the hedge would have costed a small fortune but, upon hearing about this problem, we had an offer from the Lower Mill Estate, in particular their ground staff, to re-lay it as part of their staff training programme. We eagerly took them up on this offer. Earlier this year a volunteer group formed to start maintaining it and I hope this will continue again in the autumn.

A lot of work has taken place in maintaining the footpaths in the parish thanks to the vigilance of people who regularly walk them. The biggest project was the resurfacing of the 100 metres or so of footpath that runs alongside the Kennel Bungalow. We also asked for the stiles to be replaced, in the field next to Church Lane, with Bristol gates, as many people found the old stiles quite hazardous. A handrail was installed by the steps in Church Lane and several footbridges have also needed to be repaired along with the wooden kissing gate.

We have renewed the lease for the Parish Field with Waterland, with an increase in the rent.

We arranged for training in the use of the defibrillator which was well attended. The PC pays for replacement batteries and pads for the two defibrillators in the village. A small group of volunteers check the defibrillator in the phone box every week which is much appreciated.

People who lived in Elm View asked for the car park there to be made usable again as it had become completely overgrown. We pressed for this to be done and the car park was resurfaced and cleared of vegetation. However, we are still concerned about the overgrown hedge in front of the Sculpture Park which makes exiting Elm View quite hazardous and certainly risky for anyone walking along there.

We continued to liaise with the Environment Agency over the maintenance of the village’s flood defence system. Earlier this we shared a site visit with their representative and discussed their plans for future maintenance.

There are several things that we have set in motion which will bear fruit in the future. For example, making a financial contribution to Thames Head Energy in order that a feasibility study could be carried out. We’ve also supported local businesses by helping them access the Rural England Prosperity Fund.

It’s an exciting time for the PC with a substantial amount of CIL money to spend in the next four to five years. This should make being a part of the PC an attractive prospect.

I would like to thank the councillors who served with me on the last PC and Kristy for taking on the role of Parish Clerk. Your role is going to be important in helping new councillors to get to grips with their responsibilities. I would like to thank Tony Berry for the support and advice he gave us and congratulate Mike McKeown for his electoral success in becoming our District Councillor. Thanks also to Lisa Spivey for the work she’s done as our County Councillor. I would also like to thank Muriel Watkins for putting together and distributing the Chronicle. This is full of really useful information and so much better than the Parish Newsletter where Somerford Keynes hardly got a mention.