MORE PARISH POWER COULD BE THE FUTURE?

Parish councils are being given an opportunity to raise their local taxes to meet needs created by bigger councils cutting back on services like rubbish collection and cutting roadside hedges.

This direction of travel in local politics was identified in discussion at Horrabridge Parish Council’s latest monthly meeting, on Tuesday this week, and left for further thought.

More on it later in this report.

Also discussed this week …

* Conversion of Magpie Leisure Park into a retirement community with up to 80 caravans occupied all year – council having second thoughts about the desirability of it and some existing residents being given notice to quit.

* Possibility of replacing and even expanding the existing sports pavilion in Fillace Park rather than simply repairing it – ambitions for the project mounting.

* The war memorial restoration – now fully funded by public donations, thanks to Cavaliers’ quiz night last Saturday, so the council’s guarantee against a shortfall is no longer needed. Congratulations recorded to Andrew Collins.

Horrabridge PC currently has nine out of 12 places filled and has cleared the way to add at least one more as soon as a suitable volunteer comes forward. One possible contender, Alan Berry, was knocked back recently but continues to attend meetings.

Eight of the current councillors attended this week’s meeting, along with their new clerk, Shane Honey, and about 12 members of the public.

The councillors decided to abandon a short-lived Public Participation Policy which limited questioning from the public – and opened the meeting, in traditional style, with time set aside for anyone to ask about anything.

“If we cannot answer this month, we will answer next month,” said chairman Paul Beard.

Paul Beard

That gave Joe Sweetinburgh the opportunity to ask again about documentation concerning the sale of parish land for the extension of Walkham Meadows, which he has always claimed was done without full independent legal advice.

Cllr Steve Roche repeated the council’s last position, which was that they had done enough explaining and did not need to co-operate with him any further. And Mr Sweetinburgh repeated his threat to ask a judge to order disclosure. But he has been on this trail for a while and the council has not yet been called to answer any questions.

Mr Sweetingburgh did get an explanation for some “missing money” referred to in his Horrabridge Noticeboard posts – apparently the reason why the council is still waiting for an auditor’s approval of last year’s accounts.

Cllr Eric Hemsil said the problem was sorted out – a paper discrepancy of about £600 caused by payments in progress being deducted from one year-end statement and not from another.

In spite of voices being a little raised on these matters, the council decided to keep its open question times, before and after meetings, and apologised for a change to standing orders which had seemed like a good idea at the time but had not worked well.

Cllr Roche, chairman of the planning committee, said the Magpie Park plans were still under consideration, past deadline, because Dartmoor planners were “snowed under” and he was asking for the parish council to get another chance to talk about concerns including traffic on the A38 and the state of the existing footpath between site and village. Cllr Christine Edmondson said the new owners, Barton Park Homes, were acting as if they had already won and were issuing eviction notices. Planning application number 0411/18 asks for retrospective approval for existing situation, plus more caravans up to a total of 80.

Talks with architects about preparing for redevelopment in Fillace Park are moving forward. Meanwhile, Horrabridge Rangers to be pursued for outstanding rent.

Musician Sean Lakeman spoke from the public benches to say his touring experiences had shown him much better facilities in smaller places and Horrabridge should think big. Chairman Paul Beard said he personally wanted “the best we can get”. But West Devon councillor David Cloke, attending as an invited guest, warned against getting too ambitious and wasting a lot of money on consultancy before a brick was laid. More next month.

Cllr Roche drew attention to a possible source of funding for local organisations in the former TAP Fund, for Town & Parish collaborations. It is now called Communities Together and applications still have to be made through parish councils, but the eligibility rules for projects have broadened.

Cllr Tracy Lear was absent but notified a Flood Awareness Day to take place in the parish hall Nov 20, 4-7 pm – everyone encouraged to attend.

David Cloke reported on affairs at the next level of local government and said more cuts in services were inevitable. Collecting black rubbish bags only every three weeks was one suggestion lurking because both West Devon and Devon County councils had to keep their tax rises below 3 percent. However, there was not yet any such restriction on parish councils and the thinking seemed to be that parishes might take up some jobs abandoned by Devon Highways and so on – such as hedging, which Horrabridge PC is already doing more of, through employed handyman, now working flat out, plus local contractor.

Cllr Eric Hemsil said it was worth noting that although Horrabridge had increased its precept by only 2.5 percent at the last opportunity, the national parish council average was 4.6 percent.

Report by Chris Benfield, editor, Horrabridge Times. See parish council website for full minutes.

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Editor of The Horrabridge Times.

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