Monday, 17 May 2010

Annual Parish Meeting - 12 May

Last Wednesday night I attended the Annual Parish Meeting in Barnacle. This isn't a formal parish council meeting, but is an opportunity for the community to come together once a year to hear reports and feedback from the different local authorities and community organisations that exist in Shilton and Barnacle. The venue of the Annual Parish Meeting alternates each year between the two villages.

This year, there were presentations from Shilton Parish Council Chairman Bill King,
Warwickshire County Councillor Phillip Morris-Jones, Rugby Borough Councillor Tony Gillias, and representatives from Shilton Village Hall Committee, Barnacle Village Hall Committee, Shilton Playing Fields Committee and the BASIS editorial team. Sadly, in addition to these people, there were only three other members of the public in attendance. Perhaps, in hindsight, more people would've turned out if there had been a keynote speaker on a topic of local interest around which the meeting could've been themed. Something to consider for next year.

It was heartening to hear of the many achievements and progress being made by the voluntary groups in the two villages. There are so many good things happening, it's a shame that they often don't filter down to the wider public, who remain largely unaware of the time and effort put in by so many volunteers.

I was interested to hear the report from Councillor Tony Gillias because he provided an update on the borough council's Gypsy and Traveller Site Allocations Development Plan Document. This is an important document in that it will identify where, within the Rugby borough area, provision for the 42 extra gypsy and traveller pitches that are needed between now and 2017 are to be located. (If you're new to this issue, it might be worth reading my
blog entry from January which summarises the progress made to date).

Sadly, the progress reported by Tony Gillias was that there hadn't been that much!
Delays in producing Rugby Borough Council's Core Strategy has pushed back the production of the Gypsy and Traveller Site Allocations Development Plan Document, meaning the current timescale for production is now:
  • Evidence gathering: February - July 2010
  • Consultation: January - March 2011
  • Publication: June 2011
  • Submission to the Secretary of State: October 2011
  • Examination: February 2012
  • Adoption: July 2012

So despite currently being in the evidence gathering stage, the final plan won't be formally adopted until the London Olympics are underway. It's a constant frustration for the parish council as to how long these planning documents take to produce. Looking back over the history of this, the plan's adoption has now slipped from February 2011, to summer 2011, now to July 2012. Let's hope there are no further delays.

On a happier note, Tony Gillias also reported that he was to become the Chairman of Rugby Borough Council's Planning Committee for 2010/11. Congratulations to Tony, and lets hope he can use his influence to ensure there are no further delays in the production of the site allocations plan.

Finally, the Annual Parish Meeting was the first meeting attended by our new borough councillor
Rachel Watts. The Chairman welcomed her to Shilton and Barnacle and congratulated her on her recent election victory.

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Planning Application Decision

Rugby Borough Council has reached the following decision on a planning application submitted in September:
  • The Stables, Wood Lane, Shilton - erection of an agricultural storage building - approved.

The full decision on this application can be viewed here.

Thursday, 13 May 2010

Broadband Scrutiny Review - Update

You may recall that back in March I reported that Rugby Borough Council had decided not to undertake a scrutiny review into the availability of high speed broadband in the rural areas of the borough. This was a suggestion I had made in response to their request in February for issues of local concern that would benefit from a detailed review by the Borough Council.

Yesterday, I received a letter from Rugby's Scrutiny and Policy Officer setting out in detail the reasons why the Council had decided not to undertake a scrutiny review into this issue.

This is the letter:

Thank you for submitting Shilton Parish Council's interesting proposal for an overview and scrutiny review on access to high speed broadband in rural communities. The members considered a record 33 proposals and reducing these to a manageable shortlist was a challenging task. I have to inform you that your proposal was not selected for inclusion in the scrutiny programme in 2010/11.

The members noted that the issue of slow speeds and non-availability of broadband in rural and many urban areas across the country was currently being addressed through the Broadband Service Commitment. They felt that a national rather than a local approach would in the first instance be most appropriate, and a local scrutiny study would duplicate much of this. In the meantime,
Virgin and BT are known to be doing some work to make improvements in individual areas, and I am sure local councillors will do all they can to act as spokespeople for their areas.

This is as far as the members' discussion of the matter went. However, I would add that, after the completion of the present phase of the national assessment of 'not-spots', it might be worth looking at this subject again. The funding of the national initiative to improve coverage will presumably continue to be problematic, and - given the dire prospects for public funding - this will be no less the case at local authority level. However, if the businesses that will benefit believe there is a good business case for putting up the money themselves, all may not be lost.

You might therefore consider resubmitting your proposal next year, possibly focusing on local initiatives. I would warn, however, that there will still be no guarantee that a case can be made for a scrutiny review. The uneven availability and speed of broadband may be a matter of public concern, but it would be hard to argue that high speed broadband is necessary for social networking and the types of communication with and by the council that are mentioned in support of your proposal. (Admittedly, though, no broadband at all is a different matter.)

In the meantime, there may be work that interested parish councils can do in their localities, for example by gathering evidence so that local businesses would regard putting money into a wireless scheme as a sound investment and, indeed, by co-ordinating schemes funded this way.

Thank you again for your suggestion. We rely on involvement from outside organisations and individuals to keep our overview and scrutiny work relevant to local people's needs and concerns, and I hope you will not be deterred from making other suggestions in future.

I'm grateful to Rugby BC's Scrutiny Office for this considered response but, regrettably, don't entirely share their confidence that the private sector alone can be relied upon to meet the demand in rural areas for highspeed broadband provision.

I shall blog again within the next week on my more detailed response to the issues raised in this letter and the way I think things could evolve for rural broadband provision.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Planning Application Consultation

This week, a planning application has been submitted by:
  • Woodway Engineering Ltd, Lower Road, Barnacle - provision of a vehicular access door.

Full details of the application (including site plans) can be found by clicking here. All comments on the application must be received by Rugby Borough Council by Friday 28 May.

Rugby Borough Council Election Results

Voting to elect 16 councillors to sit on Rugby Borough Council for the next four years took place on Thursday, and after the votes had been counted the Conservatives were returned to the Town Hall with an increased majority.

By the end of the night, the Conservatives had won 10 seats (an increase of one), Labour had secured four seats (unchanged) and the Liberal Democrats had won two seats (down one). The overall balance of power in the borough for the next year will be:

  • Conservatives - 28 seats
  • Labour - 11 seats
  • Liberal Democrats - 9 seats

The Conservatives now have a majority of eight over all other parties in the Council Chamber and retain the control of the council they've had since 2007.

The full result for the Fosse ward was:

  • Rachel Watts (Conservative) - 1,242
  • Richard Gunstone (Liberal Democrat) - 548
  • Robert Bevin (Labour) - 452

Congratulations to Rachel Watts who has now taken over the seat vacated by Neil Campbell. I look forward to working with her through the parish council in getting the best for Shilton and Barnacle.