Chairman’s Annual Report April 2017.
Blean Parish Council has nine members and is, for the first time in many years, at full compliment. It is a positive step forward for us all and all the councillors are committed to working for the benefit of the village and its community. Sadly, this year has seen the loss of a dear colleague, Mr Charles Harris who gave many years service to the village as a Parish councillor and was known to many within the village as ‘a true gentlemen’. He will be missed by many.
As a Parish Council, we remain pro-active and make representations through our Ward and County Councillors regarding various issues that have an impact on the Blean. Over the last year, this has included potholes, the A290, Parking Enforcement for the village, litter and speeding to name a few. I, and the Parish Clerk, meet regularly with our Ward Councillors to raise any issues and give feedback to the City Council on the pertinent topics at the time of meeting. We feel that maintaining this level of communication fosters a better understanding of the roles that we all play in the local government of our area.
Looking back over the last year I think the overriding issue within Blean has been planning applications. It has been an exceptional year for planning applications within the parish. The one that most people are aware of has been the 2nd controversial application from Gladman Developments and the subsequent appeal. The Parish Council entered a steep learning curve. With the tremendous support from the community through encouragement, funding and the provision of important evidence Blean Parish Council took part in the recent Planning Inquiry held at The Guildhall in Canterbury. We are now awaiting the Planning Inspector’s decision which should in the next few weeks.
Apart from this application there have been a number of controversial applications throughout the year, two of which have also gone to appeal and have been dismissed. Others such as the conversion of a residential property to a Vets’ Surgery and the potential development in School Lane have been the subject of strong objection by the Parish council and of working with the officers within City Council Planning Department. Blean Parish Council carefully look at every application and balance local and national planning policies, the needs of the village and realistic outlook for our future. This is not an easy task.
The other major issue that caused concern amongst the village and community was the publication of the University in Kent’s Master Plan for the next 50 years. The plan was conceptual in nature and was difficult for several people to understand that it was not the final plan. There was also sadly a lot of confusion caused as many leaflets were not delivered to various properties in Blean and Tyler Hill. Villagers understandably felt disenfranchised by this. Blean Parish Council was able to facilitate two open sessions at the village hall for the community to view the plans, ask questions of the University staff and make comments. The Parish Council made an initial objection to the plan and have continued to maintain dialogue with the University. Through this dialogue, we now have a letter from the University stating that the Park and Ride concept is not being taken forward. At a recent meeting with the University, the 3 parishes of Blean, Hackington and Rough Common and Harbledown and our Ward Councillors, we were informed of two very important factors, namely it is the University’s intention to concentrate on the Campus heart first and that it would be 5 – 10 years before they would look at any potential development out with the Campus. This is very encouraging and a lot can happen in the next 5 to 10 years with regard to Brexit, the funding of higher education and the delivery of higher education, which could affect any future expansion. Blean Parish Council will continue to keep a watching brief [along with our colleagues in the other parishes and our Ward Councillors] on any changes within the University.
On a more positive aspect, we have seen the completion of the Chestnut Avenue project. The diseased trees are all removed, the pavement reinstated and new trees planted. It all looks very pleasant and I thank the residents of Chestnut Avenue for their patience whilst they waited for the work to be fully completed.
Within the Recreation Ground and Nature Reserve we have been exploring funding for two projects, the upgrading of our swings and the lining and planting of the pond. I am very pleased to tell you that we now have through various sources all the funding now in place to go ahead with these two projects which will be completed by early summer. At this point I would like to extend my grateful thanks to Hazel, Michael and their small band of volunteers who have continued to enhance the Nature Reserve through their planting and care for the hedge and saplings. Only recently I had a wander around and admired the blossom, the cowslips and the trees and saplings all coming forth for Spring. It is an important asset for our community and we hope to further enhance it over the coming year. If you would like to help please do get in touch.
As a Parish Council, we have, like our colleagues in City Council, have had to accept a cut in the level of our funding. Government cuts to the City Council have meant less monies available for our funding, known as Concurrent Funding. Under the new funding structure, we are now funded for a four-year period at a capped level which for us is 70% of our bid. This has sadly meant that we have had to make some difficult decisions. Firstly, our Parish Clerk took a voluntary cut in her hours, with an agreed proviso that at ‘busy’ times e.g. Annual Audit etc she can claim additional hours which will be approved by the Parish Council. The second difficult decision was to increase the Parish Precept. You will have noticed this in your recent Council Tax Bill. This increase is to make up the shortfall from our Concurrent Funding and allow us to continue the grass cutting and hedge maintenance of the Recreation Ground along with all the work done by our village handyman Ken, who does all the litter picking in the village, cares for the play equipment and many other tasks to keep our village pleasant and enjoyable to walk around.
This leads me to a point of expressing my thanks to all of you as residents who have taken on roles within the village as Speedwatch and/or Neighbourhood volunteer. All of you, who care for the Nature Reserve, who quietly and without fuss pick up the odd bit of litter, cut back the odd overhanging branch and generally care and take pride in our village.
Thank you to Denise and Ken, who work hard for the parish and do far more than they are paid for, and a final thank you my fellow councillors with a mention to our two new co-opted councillors this year, Jane Rouse and Kirsty Vant.