Present: Councillors T Butcher, C Butler, R Butler and A Jeffrey

In attendance: Paul Thompson (Clerk) and two parishioners

Apologies: Councillor A Dick and District Councillor V Von Celsing

Councillor Trudi Butcher chaired the meeting.

The Minutes of the last Annual Meeting were approved and signed by the Chairman.


Chairman’s Report:

I am pleased to present this, my first, report as Chairman of the Council.

The Council met seven times during the year to 31 March 2016, including one extraordinary meeting to discuss a planning application at Pyt House. More recently, we held an extraordinary meeting to discuss a planning application at Straight Ash.

As in previous years, certain councillors agreed to take lead roles for specific matters. Alex Dick undertook police matters, Colin Butler undertook footpaths and highways and I continued to represent the Council on ART. I would mention at this point that we were most grateful to former Councillor David Mountain for agreeing to complete the planning process with regard to the bus shelter and to oversee the building work, more of which later.

The Council was asked to make observations on a total of twelve planning applications over the last year, including two as a neighbouring parish. Two were withdrawn, eight, including the bus shelter, were granted planning permission and two are awaiting a decision. Due to a number of objections to the proposed bus shelter from both inside and outside the village, the Clerk and I attended the planning meeting at West Berkshire Council at which the application was granted. Prior to submitting the application, David Mountain had amended the drawings with a view to reducing the visual impact on the properties facing the bus shelter.

Following another minor incident on Holly Lane, the Council once again tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade West Berkshire Council to extend the 30 mph limit to Palmers Hill. However, I am pleased to report that resurfacing work was carried out to the section of Holly Lane running from the crossroads to Noakes Hill and also to Flowers Piece and Hartridge Lane. West Berkshire Council have also responded to our request to take measures to reduce flooding on the Aldworth Road by The Old Fleece and Feathers and also by Willow Tree Cottage. The Clerk continues to report potholes to West Berkshire Council on a regular basis.

The Council continues to monitor footpaths and byways, reporting problems to either the landowners or West Berkshire Council. We have installed replacement dog waste bins on the recreation ground, partly due to the removal of the pavilion. We continue to cut the grass on the recreation ground and The Green. We have also met the cost of tree surgery and essential playground repairs on behalf of ART. The Council has agreed to meet these costs until a regular hirer of the hall is found, although ART is expected to carry out works on the recreation ground that could be carried out by work parties.

The work on the bus shelter commenced in December, 2015 and the Council was very pleased with the quality of the work carried out by Tailormade Building Solutions Ltd. We understand that the builders received a number of positive comments from passersby whilst completing the shelter.

Councillor Alex Dick continues to update us on police matters through the text alert system and dog watch which help to reduce local crime. These do however rely on residents being vigilant and reporting any suspicious activity to the police and Alex.

The Council has carried out a further review of emergency planning procedures to ensure that all residents can be contacted should the need arise.

The Council responded, on behalf of residents, to consultations by West Berkshire Council requesting that mobile library services should continue and that bus concessions be applied to Handybus services.

There has been little progress with the refresh of the Parish Plan, although members of the Parish Council and ART did meet with a view to moving the matter forward. Both organisations would welcome support in carrying out this work.

The Council is particularly grateful to Rob Barker for managing the Parish website, as under the Transparency Code we are obliged to publish Minutes and financial information as a small authority. Whilst the Council will in fact be subject to audit for 2015/16 and 2016/17, you will notice even more financial information posted on the website in accordance with this Code. Please make use of the website as it covers what is on in the village as well as Parish Council matters.

As regards finances, the Council had set a precept of £6,680 for 2015/16 to which was added the council tax support grant of £81. We also received a refund of £2428 in respect of VAT paid on goods and services purchased by the Council during the year, a refund of £66 for overpaid PAYE on the Clerk’s salary and £1 from a freedom of information request. A Vibrant Villages grant of £2,500 was received towards the cost of the bus shelter. The Council’s income was spent on the following items, excluding VAT:

Clerk’s salary £1,596, including the PAYE refund; Clerk’s expenses and other administrative costs £585; Grass cutting £2,035; Tree surgery £2150; Playground and other maintenance £1,123; Dog waste bins and waste collection £309; Gifts to retiring Councillors £63; Donations to local charities £215; Bus shelter £6,581. VAT paid on these items totalled £2,439 including £11 to be recovered in 2016/17. This resulted in a deficit for the year of £5,340 against a budgeted deficit of £4,721.

The Council’s retained funds of £5,034 at 31 March 2016 include an election reserve of £200.

The precept for the current year was again set at £6,680 excluding the Council Tax Support Grant. We have since been advised that we will receive a support grant of £40.

I would like to thank our District Councillor, Virginia Von Celsing, for the information and support that she has given the Council on a number of matters. I would also like to thank my fellow Councillors and former Councillor Zaz Worth for their support over the last year but most particularly Paul Thompson, the Clerk, whose help and advice are, as usual, so invaluable to the smooth running of the Parish Council.

Parishioners questions:

A parishioner raised concerns that the Carebus and Handybus services to the village were under threat due to the withdrawal of the reimbursement of bus concessions by West Berkshire Council. The two providers of the services were charging £3.80 return to Reading and £3 return to Newbury. To make matters worse, WBC were ceasing their additional support for the services, by way of providing the buses and their maintenance, with effect from 31 March 2017. Whilst Carebus had sought other grants to continue the service, this would only be possible if there was sufficient demand. It was therefore important that parishioners should continue to use that service, albeit without the bus concession. The Newbury service was in more doubt as it is believed that Handybus has not sought the external grants available to continue the service after 31 March 2017.

The Chairman reiterated that the Council had asked WBC not to withdraw the reimbursement of the bus concessions but added that the Council would look into what support that it could provide later in the year.

A parishioner advised that she had written to WBC regarding the poor state of paths and bridleways on Ashampstead Common and the adequacy of the signs. In addition,due to the muddy ground, horse riders were not keeping to the byways and bridleways thereby making the conditions on the Common much worse.

The Clerk was asked to write to WBC regarding the signs and also to Cullinghood Riding Stables and Rod Ward at Buckhold to ask that their customers be advised to keep to the byways and bridleways in the parish.

There being no further business, the meeting closed at 7.32 p.m.