14 March 2023 – Minutes (draft)
ANNUAL TOWN MEETING
Minutes of the Annual Town Meeting held on 14 March 2023 at 7.30pm in the Upper Chamber, Thame Town Hall.
42 Residents & Councillors
The Minutes of the Meeting held on 22 March 2022 were noted to be a correct record, and were signed by the Chairman.
2 Town Mayor’s Report for 2022-23
Town Mayor Cllr Paul Cowell gave a verbal report on his second year as Mayor. It was lovely to see Thame’s full calendar of events return. The Queen’s Jubilee celebrations had been fantastic, but sadly the town had to offer its condolences to the Royal Family following the passing of the late Queen this year too. The town now looks to the coronation of King Charles this year. Town Council Officers continue to help a range of organisation in the town, to ensure events and operations run smoothly, and are always happy to help. The Town Council continues to progress with the revised Thame Neighbourhood Plan (TNP2) which will be brought to the public soon. The operational review continues to look at how the Town Council can improve its operations and investment had been made in management training. It had been a rewarding year for both of the Mayor’s charities, Thame Youth Projects and Thame Senior Friendship Centre, which continue to grow as they support Thame’s young people and older community respectively. It had been great to work with them.
Since last year’s Annual Town Meeting, the new community youth centre project is progressing well with more news coming soon. The building will serve both the youth and community.
As the civic year comes to an end, the Mayor thanked the Council Officers and his fellow Councillors for their support. It had been a wonderful time. After the May elections, the Mayor hoped all Councillors would be re-elected and looked forward to passing on the Mayoral chain.
A question was raised regarding the Cattlemarket site. District Councillor Barker advised that the site is owned by South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC). Thame Farmers’ Mart have a long term plan to move to a new site, which has planning permission, on the edge of Thame. When then Cattlemarket site becomes available, SODC and Thame Town Council (TTC) will decide what to do with it, however it was not at that point yet.
3 A Strategy for Thame
The Town Mayor gave a short verbal update on the progress towards a strategy for Thame. Over recent years, Thame has delivered great sport and community facilities, and is delivering affordable housing through the Community Land Trust. The town now needs a 5-10year strategy to determine what residents want and provide direction and priorities for the Town Council. This is so TTC knows where to apply pressure and how to best use its finite resources. Successes and failures need to be better measured.
After the local elections in May, where there will be new Councillors, a project team will be formed. This will involve representatives from TTC as well as businesses and residents. Businesses are the life and support of the town and it is important that businesses of all sizes and forms are included. Key elements of the process will include consultation, engagement, listening, communication, and transparency. The focus needs to be on what Thame has and what is missing, looking at community, environment, sustainability, business, economy, culture, history, and facilities. This is just a taster of what’s to come and will be progressed after the local elections.
4 Open Forum – Questions from Electors
Question 1: Several sinkholes are affecting areas in Thame including Montrose Way, Wentworth Road, and Lenthall Green, and have resulted in a footpath closure to Ludlow Drive. A new one has appeared on Park Street recently too. The holes have been filled in and have since collapsed again. There has been no communication from Thames Water, despite guidelines stating they should be monitoring it. Engineers have been approached on site who have denied that they are sinkholes and advised to contact Oxfordshire County Council (OCC). There is currently a loud pump which is keeping residents awake.
Answer: Issues should be reported through Fix My Street. County Councillor Champken-Woods was aware of the issue and committed to continue putting pressure on Thames Water. As there appeared to be no response from Thames Water, it was suggested to involve the MP.
Question 2: Every 3 months, drains are being blocked in Kings Close. Could any pressure be put on the Highways department?
Answer: County Cllr Champken-Woods agreed to follow this up after the meeting to establish whether this was a Thames Water or Highways issue.
Question 3: Council meetings were not very diverse. Were there any plans in the strategy to engage a wider audience? Would this be considered before the consultation starts? Thame has people who want to get involved but are not sure how, or aware of the meeting this evening.
Answer: The Town Council needs to go to residents, and not expect them to come to us. This could involve using different venues and locations. Residents are encouraged to stand in the upcoming elections.
Question 4: The bridge on Spring Path through Cuttle Brook is in a dangerous state of repair due to the asphalt crumbing. The public art wayfinding trail had been installed this week with the bridge forming part of the route. The resident had emailed the Town Clerk last year who advised that repairs would be discussed but had received no further response.
Answer: The Town Clerk advised that Officers continue to chase this, but it was an OCC matter. Cllr Champken-Woods agreed to follow it up.
Question 5: Dogs not on leads along Spring Path was becoming a nuisance. Whilst most people do keep them under control, could signs be put up to ask owners to keep dogs on leads? There was also a bigger issue of people from outside of Thame using the Cuttle Brook Nature Reserve to walk their dogs.
Answer: The Town Council has a meeting of its Open Spaces Working Group soon and will put this on the agenda for discussion. The topic was controversial. Signs could be put up, and the Town Council could legally employ someone to enforce this, but this needs further discussion with the community. Dogs on long leads also present a trip hazard at busy times.
Question 6: Thanks were given for the presentations and updates. Would the revised TNP and new strategy look carefully at the needs of larger community facilities in Thame?
Answer: TNP2 includes the Cattle Market site. Whilst it is owned by SODC, TTC has aspirations for the site. Cllr Barker advised it will be important to have a process for consultation when it becomes available. The new Community Youth Centre at Southern Road Recreation Ground will have a community hall for up to 200 people, and has been designed to be flexible and self-sustaining. There will be further public consultations. Thame is struggling for space to place an additional community building.
Question 7: Will the Cattle Market site be mixed use? What was the outcome of SODC’s review of its estates?
Answer: The site will be allocated as mixed in TNP2. Cllr Barker advised that the estates review was to bring SODC’s Asset Register up to date and confirmed the Cattle Market is in their ownership. The Farmers’ Mart are not in a position to relocate yet, and the timeline is unknown. It is important to retain this site and not force the relocation.
Question 8: The first TNP had been impressive. What was the timetable for the TNP2 consultation, and how would this engage residents? The infrastructure provision to support housing development had been disappointing.
Answer: The Council has agreed to start the next TNP2 consultation in May/June after the elections. It will be considering and approving the draft plan for consultation at the Full Council meeting on 25th April. As mentioned above, the Town Council will be looking at ways to increase engagement by taking the plan to the people.
Question 9: A student from Lord Williams’s School and member of its Eco & Transport Club, asked what ideas the Town Council had for transport projects and engaging young people?
Answer: As part of the community youth centre consultation, a survey was conducted in 2019 through the school which achieved 800 responses. Presentations had also been given to Year 6 students in Thame, the scouts, guides, brownies, and cadets. There will be further consultation with young people to come. Sustainability and transport will be a key part of the Town Council’s work. The Town Council will be working with Lord Williams’s School as part of their off-curriculum week in July, with Year 7 students invited to the Town Hall to share their ideas for sustainable transport. In the future the Town Council may look to develop a Youth Council to further engage with Thame’s young people.
Question 10: As part of the strategy work, what consideration is being given to Thame as a centre for facilities for neighbouring parishes? The interaction with surrounding towns and villages is a fundamental issue, particularly with large housing developments in these places.
Answer: Thame has always proudly been a hub for surrounding villages. However, the difficulties are that the Town Council only has so much authority, and some of the issues are cross-border.
Question 11: Why had the meeting been advertised as for Thame residents only?
Answer: The Town Clerk advised that legislation states that the meeting is only open to electors in the parish of Thame (including Moreton).
Question 12: Was there a land dispute at the new allotments?
Answer: The Town Clerk advised that whilst there were some legal matters in motion as part of the transfer of the allotments from the developer to the Town Council, which was a slow process, there were no known land disputes.
Question 13: Accessibility around the town was in a poor state due to vehicles parking on dropped kerbs, potholes and inaccessible buildings. Could anything be done to improve safety for disabled users, such as filling in potholes or painting white lines on dropped kerbs? Could the Town Council prepare a list of buildings marked as accessible in Thame?
Answer: Any highways issues should be reported via Fix My Street. It was noted that a study had been undertaken locally regarding barriers to accessibility from east Thame to the town centre, which had highlighted a range of issues that were reported to OCC. Unfortunately there appeared to be a lack of holistic thinking within OCC which was challenging. The Town Council would do what it could to assist.
Clare Peecock, Communications & Events Officer for the Town Council, introduced herself as there had been discussion this evening regarding communication. Clare joined the team last month and was already looking at lots of different ways that TTC could communicate better with residents. She would love to hear from anyone who has ideas and can be contacted via the Town Council offices.
The Town Mayor thanked everyone for coming. This was followed by a round of applause.
The meeting concluded at 8:41pm
Signed ……………………………… Date ………………………………
Chairman, Annual Town Meeting