Sunday, 17 July 2011

Warwickshire Flag Flies in London

One of the many things I enjoy about visiting Switzerland is the number of houses that fly a flag. And whilst you occasionally see the Swiss national flag on display, it's far more common for private residents and public buildings to fly their canton (or regional) flag.

As someone who loves seeing flags being flown in any circumstances, it always strikes me that flags add something to the local pride of a community. I can safely say that in all my years, I have never, ever, seen the flag of Warwickshire being flown anywhere except at Shire Hall.

I fully accept that probably 95% of the county's population wouldn't even recognise the flag of Warwickshire if they saw it flying, but it's a shame that it doesn't get more of an airing.

So hats off to Eric Pickles for flying the county flag outside the London headquarters of the Department for Communities and Local Government during the last week. As part of the recognition of the role that England's counties play to the civic and communal life of the country, each week a different county has its flag flown, and this past week it has been Warwickshire's turn.

I'm undoubtedly biased, but I think it's a rather splendid flag. Perhaps one or two more examples of it might even start cropping up a little closer to home?

Friday, 15 July 2011

Mark Pawsey MP Refers to Barnacle in Parliament

It's always nice when your own Member of Parliament sees fit to raise a local concern in Parliament. So it was on Wednesday afternoon when Mark Pawsey took part in a debate in Westminster Hall on the planning system as it relates to gypsy and traveller sites.

Obviously this has been a long standing issue in Shilton and Barnacle, and Mark Pawsey used his contribution to the debate, which had been called by Priti Patel, Conservative MP for Witham in Essex, to raise a number of concerns about the speed that it was taking to bring about changes to the planning laws.

I think it's fair to say that Mark isn't a rebellious MP by nature, so it was significant to hear him to say:
"I echo the concerns expressed by Philip Hollobone (Con, Kettering) and Gavin Williamson (Con, South Staffordshire) about the delays in the Government's introduction of changes. We spoke about that during the general election campaign and as soon as we came into government. We have raised expectations in communities, but are failing to realise them."
The debate is being show on BBC Parliament on Sunday 17 July at 6.00am and Monday 18 July at 2.30am. Alternatively, you can watch it on the UK Parliament website here. The full debate lasts for an hour and three quarters, but if you just want to hear Mark Pawsey, he gets up to speak after an hour and 10 minutes.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Planning Policies and Parish Council Powers

Normally, parish councils only make it into the news when a village stalwart finally decides to retire after having been a councillor for the last 49 years, or as a means of adding comic value to stories of petty bureaucracy by so-called jobsworths. So it was heartening over the weekend to see two stories that were a break from the norm.

On Saturday, Geoffrey Lean in the Daily Telegraph
wrote about the forthcoming National Planning Policy Framework – due to be published later this month – that will set out the Government’s official guidance on how local councils should consider planning applications.

Planning related matters must surely be at the top of any list of issues that will cause a community to collectively rise up in objection. Whether it’s next door’s extension or the line of route of the proposed High Speed 2 railway, almost everyone has an opinion on their neighbourhood and what it should look like. The difficulty for the planning regime is that local opinions are invariably that things should just be left exactly as they currently are, a premise which is both impossible and impractical to anybody who thinks about these things for more than a fleeting moment.

Although they aren’t the Local Planning Authority (and therefore not directly responsible for planning matters), parish councils spend an awful lot of time on planning issues, either responding to consultations on individual applications and local planning policies, or because they will invariably be at (or near) the forefront of local campaigns against new development of one sort or another.

The 'talk' from the Government since it got elected in May last year is that local communities are to be given more say in deciding on planning applications within their community. But this is only half true: the Localism Bill currently going through Parliament will give communities more scope to support applications that would otherwise not be granted
, but communities will not be empowered to reject planning applications that the borough council wants to approve.

Perhaps there really are villages up and down the country full of residents that are desperate for more houses, shops and industrial units that the council don't want to give permission for. But forgive me if I doubt that to really be the case!

What concerns me more - and touched on in the Geoffrey Lean article - is proposals for planning authorities to be able to formally take into account financial incentives in granting planning permission. At the moment, developers can agree a financial contribution to the local council to help offset the impact of planning permission being granted. Typically, this could be the cost of building a children's play area on a new housing estate, or paying for a local bus service where one did not currently exist.

The significant change that is proposed by the Government now is that the amount of money a developer is prepared to pay to the council can be a material consideration in deciding whether to grant planning permission or not. And it doesn't require too much of a stretch of the imagination to see that a large enough amount of money will always be able to outweigh the negative impact of planning permission. In other words, if enough money is offered up by way of incentive, then the local council will have very little option but to approve the planning application. I'm currently waiting for someone to explain to me the difference between this and what's commonly considered to be bribery.

For whilst this change won't be of great benefit for somebody trying to get permission for a ground floor extension to their house, developers of wind farms (amongst many others) must at this very moment be calculating exactly how much "financial incentive" is needed to reach the tipping point to guarantee them planning approval.

If this has an indirect impact on parish councils, then David Cameron's plans to give them "sweeping powers" to run local neighbourhoods (including licensing pubs and controlling parking) could genuinely be transformational. Patrick Hennessy
trailed this in the Sunday Telegraph ahead of Cameron's launch of his Open Spaces White Paper today.

I've not read the White Paper yet and so shall save my comments for another time, but I am supportive of anything that genuinely devolves responsibility down to communities, and that recognises that the most democratic and accountable body that can oversee these responsibilities within a village is the local parish council.

I am convinced that parish councils have the unfortunate reputation that they (largely) do have because people struggle to see how they are relevant to their everyday lives. But by placing the parish council at the centre of village life - and giving it real and meaningful responsibilities - the public should engage with it more, leading to more people wanting to be parish councillors because they'll see a reason in wanting to be one. This should lead to finally having contested elections, and the improved accountability and legitimacy that parish councillors gain as a result of this.

I'll blog more on the Open Public Services White Paper over the coming days and weeks, but in the meantime if this post has interested you enough to read some more, then take a look at the proposals yourself here:
And look out for (hopefully!) many more newspaper stories featuring your local parish council delivering important and worthwhile public services.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Shilton Parish Council 2010/11 Accounts

Following last month's parish council meeting, I said that I would post online the income and expenditure account and balance sheet for Shilton Parish Council for 2010/11. These were both formally noted at the meeting on 7 June.

Somewhat delayed (apologies!), here is that financial information. Click on the images to view them full screen:

Income and Expenditure Account

Balance Sheet

As always, please feel free to comment or ask questions on this.