Mayors Blog 39
I hope you all had a lovely Easter. In general the weather was kind which makes all the difference. Congratulations to Adrian for an uplifting church service on Sunday.
I am really interested in what makes people passionate about things in and around Alcester. Is it the long running debate on the integration of Kinwarton into Alcester for example? Or planning applications and how it will affect the character of our town? Or how we can fund local organisations so that they remain working for the town’s people? So many things. But the one that comes out on top is grass cutting. This is a very emotive subject and I can see why. We are proud of our town and want to see it looking lovely. Uncut grass is unsightly and it looks a mess. But who cuts the grass? There are three players here. 1) Warwickshire County Council, 2) Stratford District Council and 3) Alcester Town Council. But who cuts what? The glib response is to go and have a look. If the grass is short then it will be ATC grass. If it is longer then it is SDC grass and if it is very long then it is probably WCC grass. Why is this? WCC maintain the road verges and islands. They only cut their grass three times a year and only up to one metre from the road, unless it is long enough to potentially cause an accident. SDC cut their grass at least 6 times a year to a height of 150 mm (6″). ATC cut up to 7-8 times a year but will cut the grass lower. We also cut for other special reasons such as Britain in Bloom. So why am I mentioning this? I had an anonymous call the other day about the state of the grass on the Roebuck traffic island, and yes it is long and very unsightly. We want to maintain a lovely approach into the town but are not responsible for the grass cutting and do not have the budget for it. We do have a dilemma. However all residents can complain to WCC and should do so if they feel the grass is too long. Go to http://www.stratford.gov.uk/community/grass-verge-cutting.cfm for details.
The Heart of England Town Criers competition was held again in Alcester last weekend. This is a hard fought competition and in the end it was very close. For the first time there was a three way tie for third place. After a cry off, two still remained tied for the place. This is a lovely competition but not, as I first thought, typically British. There are town criers all over Europe. This is logical because in the old days the way to disseminate news was to send to each town written proclamations where the literate town crier cried the news to the largely illiterate populace.
Warwickshire Fire Service Consultation. Alcester Town Council are working with WCC to try to arrange a public meeting, but have in the meantime arranged for a senior fire Officer to come to the Full Council meeting on the 13th May where Councillors will be allowed to ask questions and from those make an informed response on behalf of the Town. Please keep a look out for more details very shortly.
The Greig Hall. There have been some comments made on social media about the reopening of the hall. Please appreciate that there is a process we must go through and there is no quick fix, in spite of what may have been said. I am as eager as anyone to see the hall open but it is one step at a time.
Mark Cargill, Mayor of Alcester
Mayors Blog 38
As part of the ‘job’ as Mayor you get invited to many events around the region. You may say “very nice” but there is a down side. It is a very busy and stressful position, the more so for the larger authorities. At a dinner I was attending, the Chairman of Warwick District Council, Richard Davies, collapsed with a heart attack. He was attended by two mayors, each of whom had CPR training and his wife was comforted by two more Mayors. They were in good hands. We wish Richard a full and speedy recovery and Erica, his wife, all our best wishes.
I feel like adding a standing section in this blog on the issues that affect us most at the moment. Lack of reportable progress can be frustrating but please rest assured that a great deal is going on behind the scenes.
Globe House. Some excellent news here. Agreement has been reached between all parties to retain Globe House as a cultural hub for the community of Alcester. The plan is that the Library will take over the ground floor in its entirety, amalgamating with the museum. There will be bookable meeting rooms, breakout or exhibition areas as well. This looks like it will become a lively centre for our town. ATC will have an office here as will the voluntary services. All in all this protects Globe House for future generations and should be applauded. Final plans are to be made on May the 9th with the scheme going to WCC cabinet at the end of May.
Greig Hall. The news is that things are moving in the right direction and we are now contacting the Greig Hall Action Committee and a mailing list of interested parties is being compiled so please pass on any names of people you feel may wish to help. SDC are working behind the scenes and are in negotiations with the trustees and the bank.
Fire Service Review. I hope that everyone has now completed the online survey on the future of the Fire service. We are in discussions with the relevant people and will have some more news on meetings soon particularly a public forum where residents of Alcester will be able to ask questions of a senior Fire officer. ATC has a comment sheet for Alcester residents to submit their questions/comments, which will be presented to WCC at the appropriate time.
ATC Comment Form
This weekend is of course the first in a series of Town Criers competitions to be held in Malt Mill Lane. I cannot think of a nicer location for such an event. The forecast is good so please come along. I will be there judging so do please have a chat.
Mayor of Alcester
Mayors Blog 37
Last week was the town’s Annual Parish Meeting where we received an update report from the town’s charities. Following on was Full Council when we met to discuss the events of the past month and make plans for the coming period. This is a statutory meeting that councillors are summed to attend. At the meeting, each committee chairman makes their report and proposals are made to full council. Prior to the meeting starting we receive reports from the District and County Councillors. Members of the public are also able at this time to raise issues with the council and make suggestions for the coming period. All are invited to attend and see how your town is being run.
This week we were invited to Solihull School for a visit. This is an ancient school over 500 years old and right in the middle of Solihull. It is spread over 55 acres and is an excellent centre of learning being in the top 100 schools in the country. However Alcester Grammar School is still way ahead. AGS is now well in the top ten of its type in the country.
ATC are, with Cllr Steve Payne, organising speed awareness training with the intention of reducing speeding in the town. Expect to see yellow jackets around the town with a speed gun. I am sure we all wish to see less speeding and this, along with the current speed calming measures and the coming 20 mph speed limits, will really help.
The Greig Hall. As has been mentioned recently on online social media sites, we are still awaiting news as the Greig Company wind up both their Business and Charity interests before Stratford District Council take over and we can progress out interest in the Greig Hall. There are no specific dates as yet and the process to make a smooth transition is complex. However it has started. We are hopeful that we will soon have access to assess the condition of the hall before we can open it. Naturally there will be some repairs, replacement of equipment and accessibility work, but these are minor in the grand scheme. SDC will operate the leisure centre through their leisure company SLM and ATC will hopefully operate the hall with community support – which is what we all want. We just need patience, something I admit lacking on this subject. When we get the green light then we will need volunteers. If you wish to volunteer you can get in contact via the town council website “Contact us” page www.alcester-tc.gov.uk/contact-us or email direct to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Alcester Fire Station. There is a public consultation running for the next 12 weeks on the future of the Warwickshire Fire Service. This consultation is available on the WCC website and I recommend that you have a look at it. The fire service state they need to cut £2.4 million over the next 4 years as part of the £92 million WCC are aiming to save over a similar period. I am sure we all appreciate savings need to be made but the debate is over what cuts and where. It is proposed that Alcester goes from a 24/7 manned station to just 12 hours a day, 10 am to 10 pm. I would appreciate your views on this issue as I personally am in favour of retaining the fully manned station for the benefit of the town and surrounding villages. Alcester is, as we know, at the edge of the county. If Alcester fire station goes part time then the nearest fully manned station, I understand, will be Stratford, but I am aware but they have a large area to cover.
It is time to make our voices heard.
Please paste this link into your browser for the survey.
Mayor of Alcester
Mayor blog 32
There are two major items where things will be happening very soon (the sooner the better as far as I am concerned). The first concerns the Greig Centre. On the 10th March there is a Cabinet meeting at SDC where the fate of the centre will be decided. There are three options to be considered, of which the second involves a smooth transition of ownership from the trustees to SDC. This is the least disruptive alternative, especially to the remaining Lifestyles staff. If everyone makes the right decision, and in this I include the trustees, then I hope there will be a handover in the not too distant future. I wish I could put an exact date on when this will happen. As you know ATC have been fighting for this outcome long before I became Mayor. The meeting agenda is available on the SDC website for the cabinet meeting and the potted history makes interesting reading. The Greig Hall received £950,000 public money in 2005 from SDC and ATC. In 2007 a further request for £180,000 was made to SDC but rejected. ATC made an offer to buy the hall in 2013 but this was rejected by the trustees. SDC took over negotiations in 2013 and are now bringing matters to a conclusion.
The second major item is the future of Globe House. Last week saw a meeting instigated by Mike Gittus (WCC councillor for Alcester) which brought together WCC representatives of Libraries, Museums and Building Services, Alcester Town Council and Alcester Museum. The proposition is to make Globe House a true community hub where we have access to all public services. So what is new? Surely this is what we already had? Well yes, the concept has not changed but circumstances have. Budget cuts are forcing us to consolidate. I feel that as a premier market town we should have all of the necessary services accessible here. This is where, by all working together for the town, we can hopefully bring about the right decisions for Alcester.
The Rotary Big Breakfast was held in the Town Hall on Saturday morning. Luckily we went early because by 10 am there were queues down the stairs! What a fantastic event and so well supported by the town. Well done to everyone involved. The proceeds will go to the extremely worthy cause of Dementia Care.
Finally I thought I would share this with you. A gentleman from Kings Coughton, Derek Spencer, who often walks into Alcester, regularly picks up litter on his way to and fro which he has carried out for a number of years. This act of citizenship on its own is laudable, but in addition he requested for a new litter bin to be installed for like-minded people to put their litter into outside the Methodist Church. The bin is now and place and a plaque will be going on the bin in recognition of his service to the town saying:
HAPPY IF YOU SMILE OR LAUGH
THIS IS DEREK’S EPITAPH
Mayor of Alcester
It is around this time of year that ATC traditionally hold their civic dinner. This is a celebration of what the council does and it gives us the opportunity to let everyone know a little more about the town. We invite civic heads from around the region, community groups, members of the Court Leet, business heads, volunteers and many more. It is an opportunity to showcase the town in a light that may not always be apparent. As an example we strategically placed the town’s forthcoming events guide on the tables for all to see. The chairman of Warwick County Council was among many who were most impressed that a town of our size can (and will) host so many diverse events. We held the dinner at the Town Hall and that on its own has a certain wow factor. They were all impressed with the evening. We held a raffle and raised £325 for my nominated charities which are the RNLI and the Royal British Legion (Alcester branch). I thank all the local businesses that contributed the prizes.
What price Localism?
Localism (to me) is all about knowing your community and doing the things for the best interests of that community. I attended the licensing board hearing last week to hear an application for a low cost alcohol outlet in Alcester. This application was to take over the old Hopkins pharmacy. Hopkins precinct is a problem area for the town with vandalism and anti-social behaviour, some alcohol related. Both the council and police amongst others opposed the application on issues related to health, anti-social behaviour and also that fact that Alcester has quite a sufficient range of both licensed premises and range of prices. Now in my book this is what localism should be all about. We know the problems on the ground and do not want to exacerbate them. We know this is the wrong business in the wrong area. On the other hand SDC licensing board may not know the local circumstances and pass the wrong judgement. So what happened? The committee have decided to pass the application flying in the face of both professional, council and public opposition. This really is an extraordinary decision given the circumstances.
Tomorrow I am participating in a debate on unitary authorities at WCC. There are already a number of unitary authorities in the country but in an attempt to reduce costs and (I hope) put the money where it is most needed, we have to look at schemes such as this. One of the other effects could be the removal of district authorities as under this new regime parishes such as ours would liaise direct to the unitary authority especially over planning and licensing issues. Given the ruling above I think we all know the best route for Alcester.
Mayor of Alcester
Mayors blog 30
Sorry that this has taken a couple of weeks to produce, but at least you get a special edition.
Listening to many people I feel that Alcester has been very lucky with the weather. We have not suffered serious flooding as have some parts of the country. The ‘advantage’ of the river system in and around Alcester, if that is the correct word, is that normally they rise quickly but then fall quite quickly, meaning the effects are relatively short lived. Not much comfort if you have been flooded though. I feel really sorry for those people who have been flooded for many weeks in Somerset where it seems to have gone on forever.
Alcester town council has voted to become a Dementia Friendly Town. What does that mean? Well Dementia is fast becoming the number one problem for society. It does not discriminate and can affect people of all ages. What ATC have agreed is that we will promote the understanding of what dementia is all about and try to make improvements to our town for the benefit of sufferers. We want them to enjoy a high quality of life and hope the adoption of our proposals will enable this to happen. The scheme will be rolled out in the near future so keep on the look out for notices.
ATC have agreed the precept for the coming period 2014/2015. Due to many factors including government legislation on pensions and wages, we have had to increase the precept by 4%. This however is not an inflation busting precept but a stand still one. To maintain services we need an increase and in real terms this equates to a £4 per household per year increase. ATC offer excellent value for money especially considering that there has been no rise for two years and I hope that this precept is accepted by all.
Part of the budget can be allocated as grants. This allows a council to give money to local organisations. Often these small grants mean everything to these organisations and is the difference between making a difference or not at all. Organisations can apply to the council and make a presentation for their cause. This does two things. It enables not only the council to make a judgement but also allows the organisation to publicise themselves; both beneficial.
We are starting to see a number of new residents in the town and as I have mentioned before, we want them to be part of our community. To that end ATC are sending out welcome packs to estate agents and others containing general information about the town and facilities. However in a joint venture with the Court Leet, an open day in the town hall on the 15th of March is being organised to allow all of the organisations to present themselves and hopefully get new members and volunteers. It was described as a ‘freshers day’ for the town and I hope it will become a regular event.
The town guide is due out shortly so keep a look out for it. This one is packed with events so it should be an exciting year!
Mayor of Alcester
Well, a bit belated, but Happy New Year. It is normal for there to be a slow start to the year and then things hot up. Well this time we have, as they say, hit the ground running. The most important thing that has happened is that the boundary changes for Alcester were agreed and passed by SDC on Monday. This now means that we can start our Neighbourhood Plan in earnest as we have a legal footing. The next step will be to produce the relevant documentation for submission at a referendum where the community can vote. There is a debate at the moment as to whether the districts core strategy has to be in place before a local neighbourhood plan can be published. After much discussion and research it is generally accepted that, although it will not carry much weight in law, it can be referred to if there is a dispute. This matter has also been raised in parliament, as so many authorities are behind in the submission of their core strategies. Hence our desire to see it published.
For reference SDC are now putting a number of their meetings on the internet as web casts. I was at the core strategy meeting with some colleagues this week at Elizabeth House and then, just to check it out of course, watched it on line. It works! It means that for major meetings or meetings important to Alcester, we do not have to travel to Stratford but can see the proceedings as they happen. Of course you could also wait until it has finished and fast forward to the ‘important’ bits!
We have already held our first full council meeting of the year and agreed to create a new Strategic Planning committee. This will essentially be responsible for the neighbourhood plan. We are also looking at other changes to the committee structure to make it more efficient and relevant to the times. The committee structure has been a great benefit to the town as it does produce a far more efficient council where things really do get done. The proposals are modifications to that structure and I hope they are accepted in the spirit of enhancement rather than wholesale change.
It is marvellous news that Judith Land was awarded the BME for contribution to music. She has been running the Alcester Male Voice Choir now for 40 years. She was also recognised at the ATC Christmas celebration and given the Alcester Community Group of the Year award. What a marvellous achievement, and one we should all be proud of.
The High Street appeared to do well over the Christmas period and that is in part down to the residents buying locally. There will be more initiatives soon on this subject and I feel that it is incumbent on us all to support our town shops, something that does happen now but I feel will have to happen more in the future.
The next major item on the agenda is the precept meeting and there will be a full council meeting on the 28th January to debate it.
Finally, in spite of all the rain we have had no flooding so far. That is a relief. I do feel sorry for those areas that have had bad floods and hope that they can recover soon. We know what it feels like and it can be a devastating time. The ‘big tank’ has not been called into action this season, but is there as our insurance policy when needed.
Mayor of Alcester
We must be approaching Christmas. More mince pies. No, honestly I like mince pies, but I have a big problem. I always compare them to my mothers which, ok I am biased, were perfect. Not that she makes many these days. Mom was 90 this week and looking pretty good on it as well. I am sure most of you know but Marion Cargill was the first Mayor (Mayoress) of Alcester in 1987, following the changes in local Government from Alcester Rural District Council to Stratford District Council. Interestingly the new boundary changes that are coming along soon creates a new area called, wait for it, Alcester Rural. The pendulum swings.
We were invited to Warwick University for their Christmas celebration. Warwick are a community University and involve the local and wider communities to be become more involved with them. A very interesting evening.
Tuesday was full council and I felt it was a very positive meeting and demonstrated the significant things that our council does for the community. I invite everyone to attend these meetings to understand just what happens and the hard work that is put in by everyone.
Wednesday we attended the Darby and Joan Christmas lunch which was great fun. There was entertainment in the form of ‘High Society’, who performed many of the classics from the 1930s to 1950s. And very good they were too. Well done to everyone.
Friday was the town council Christmas celebration. This is an opportunity to let everyone know what has been going on in the previous year and also to make some awards. We have had the Citizen of the Year award for some years now. This is given to someone who has put huge effort into something that benefits the community. This year I made the award to Carole Zambanini who runs the Alzheimer’s Cafe in the Jubilee Centre. This service gives sufferers a stimulating environment and relieves the carers for a short time. A tremendous effort. Well done.
My second award, started this year, was to a Community group. There are many community groups in Alcester and is one of the things that defines Alcester. My choice went to a group that has brought a great amount of pleasure to many of us and has kept up to a hundred men off the streets. I refer to the Alcester Male Voice Choir. This choir is now in its 40th year and was started by Judith Land. Judith is a music professional and has given many many hours of her time to this group. Well done all.
There will not be a blog for a couple of weeks (did I hear a sigh of relief?) as the office at Globe House is closed . I therefore wish you all a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year. ATC thanks you all for your support.
This has been a lovely week. Tuesday saw the induction and ordination of Adrian Guthrie as Rector of St. Nicholas. Bishop John of Warwick did the honours and presented Adrian to a fully packed church. The atmosphere was marvellous. Obviously this sort of ceremony does not occur often and David of course was in the position for many years. Alcester is a minster church with the parishes of Arrow with Wheethly, Great Alne with Kinwarton, Coughton with Sambourne, Haselor and Alcester. Quite a patch. We wish Adrian and Juliette his wife well in their new role.
The next major event was of course St Nicholas’s night. Again this is another super evening of entertainment and the ubiquitous food and drink! The parade of the boy Bishop, the pageant and parade, all great fun. I wonder what Adrian thought of it all!
Saturday was small business day and promoted as a family fun day with wacky things happening up and down the high street. There is of course a serious side to this in attracting people to the town centre shops. So far we are doing OK but we need to all give them our support.
Sunday we attended the Toy Service at the Baptist Chapel. This service is now a tradition and involves the congregation donating toys for the needy, normally in Coventry. It is a lovely service and one with real meaning as it does really help someone, or in fact a family, at Christmas. I was not too sure when Martin the Pastor, said the the High Bailiff and I were on Santa’s naughty list and therefore would not be receiving any presents! The mince pies afterwards were some compensation.
In between that and tea at the Malt Mill Lane centre we bought our Christmas tree. This is a serious event and one for all the family. Real Christmas trees must be in demand because one place we visited had run out! Although the artificial ones are OK, there is nothing quite like a real tree. There is also the tradition of dressing the tree, or in my case watching with a glass of wine in hand making suggestions. (I am not trusted with anything artistic) I trust you have all of your Christmas cards written and ready to send? Join the club. Ah well, I know what I am going to do now. Have a lovely week.
As I mentioned, this was the week of the planning appeal. There were four days of hearings held in Stratford. It was quite apposite that we could not hold the hearing in Alcester, due to the lack of appropriate facilities here. An issue that was raised forcefully at the hearing. We all had our chance to speak and get our points across. As I mentioned we were not supported by SDC so had to go it alone along with the residents associations.
After the first day of making our presentations and of course concentrating on the questions, I was quite tired. But that part of my job you just cannot anticipate came to the fore and that evening we went to Leamington Spa as guests of a theatre organisation called Side by Side. This company was founded to provide an enriching and motivational experience for people with learning difficulties. I can truthfully say that the range of afflictions was very wide. However, along with the helpers, the students put on a show for over three hours with many sketches. The enthusiasm was infectious and at the end I was fortunate enough to be able to congratulate them all on recharging my batteries after a wearing day. What a marvellous event and one that is planned and rehearsed for all year.
The hearing was above everything else fair. The inspector heard all sides of the argument. The appellants had a QC who was quite forensic in his analysis of the points raised which was quite brutal at times. But it is his job after all! On the Friday the inspector visited the Town and spent four and a half hours walking not only the proposed site but visiting many parts (most) of the town. He does now have a good feel for the points we made and the concerns raised. I would like to thank my colleagues on the council for taking time out of their busy schedules to support our case. Now we wait for possibly two to three months until the secretary of state makes a decision. This development, both the application and appeal, has crystallised our views on what we need to do to prepare for the future. We have long realised that the town not only needs a Neighbourhood Plan but now firmly believe a long term strategy for the future as well.
Last night, Tuesday was the induction and ordination of the new Rector, Adrian Guthrie at St Nicholas, 7pm. I will tell all next week.