22 March 2022 – Minutes (Draft)

ANNUAL TOWN MEETING

Minutes of the Annual Town Meeting held on 22 March 2022 at 7.30pm in the Upper Chamber, Thame Town Hall.

Present:

49 Residents and Councillors
3 Town Council Officers

 

Before the meeting started, the Chairman, Cllr Cowell, thanked everyone for coming to the first Annual Town Meeting since 2019. This meeting was an opportunity for residents to ask questions to their local Town, District and County Council representatives. There would be three presentations followed by an open forum.

1 Minutes

The Minutes of the Meeting held on 26 March 2019 were noted to be a correct record, and were signed by the Chairman.

 

2 Town Mayor’s Report for 2021-22

Cllr Cowell reported that he had enjoyed his first term as Town Mayor during which time there had been a return to some normality following the Covid-19 restrictions and Thame welcomed back events over the autumn and winter, including a moving Service of Remembrance. Thame had embraced the Covid-19 vaccination rollout and thanks were given to the Rycote and Unity Practices and all the volunteers who supported the programme.

Cllr Cowell is proud to support Thame Youth Projects as his chosen charity and looked forward to continuing the Town Council’s partnership with them and delivering a new Community Youth Centre for Thame in the next few years.

Over the last year, the Town Council had supported a range of local organisations including: the Citizens Advice service in Thame, Thame Senior Friendship Centre, Red Kite Family Centre, Thame Museum, Thame Green Living, Cuttle Brook Conservation Volunteers, Thame’s Market Traders, Thame Community Land Trust, Thame Shed, Thame Football Partnership and 21st Century Thame.

The Town Council is in the process of renewing the Thame Neighbourhood Plan and Cllr Cowell urged residents to continue supporting that. The Town Council welcomed its new Town Clerk, Mandy Sturdy, who is quickly getting to grips with her new role, whilst bringing a fresh look at how we operate. This will include developing an exciting strategic plan working with Officers, Councillors and the community.

Cllr Cowell is looking forward to welcoming back Thame’s spring and summer events that have been unable to take place for two years, as well as celebrating the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in June.

 

3 Thame Neighbourhood Plan – Successes and Failures

Thame’s Town Clerk gave a presentation on the first Thame Neighbourhood Plan (TNP1) giving the lessons learnt over the past 9 years, including what could have been done better, areas outside of TNP’s control and the successes. TNP1 had been a trailblazer in being the first neighbourhood plan to allocate land in the country.

Starting with lessons learnt and what could have been done better:

  • Employment – The amount of employment land was underestimated as it only considered the requirement based on the number of new houses, rather than also looking at the low vacancy rates, poor business mix and employment losses. There was a lack of guidance for when employment sites unexpectedly become available. Permitted development legislation has resulted in offices and shops being converted into residential homes, which has had a negative impact on the local economy.
  • Environment – There has been a lack of provision of pedestrian and cycle routes along the ring road and crossing points and pavements away from the new estates which was a failure of all stakeholders involved. Whilst planting and fencing partially hide the river on the new riverside walk between Taylor Wimpey/Persimmon estates, the river is helping to protect the Cuttle Brook and is a wonderful nature walk. TNP1 did not provide a plan for areas where there is a lack of open space and play facilities, such as East Thame. The ongoing lack of progress with the Thame to Haddenham Greenway continues to frustrate us all, although this is again out of the control of the TNP.
  • Social and Community – Lack of affordable homes remains an issue which has not been helped by changes to permitted development legislation.
  • Infrastructure and Facilities – A community facility was planned for in some detail on the Cattle Market but due to factors outside of the TNP’s control, including that the Thame Farmers Mart have not yet built or moved to their new premises, it has not been delivered. More specific infrastructure such as playparks, a better surgery, and more footpaths and cycle paths are all still needed.
  • Planning and Policy – TNP1 controlled housing densities but not mixes, resulting in too many large ‘executive’ homes. TNP1 lacked policies on larger redevelopment sites, such as the former Police Station and DAF sites. The working relationship with SODC could be improved as at times there was a lack of respect for the TNP and the local knowledge within it.

The above points were failings of the TNP, but in most cases there were other stakeholders involved. The following points are regrets, and are all areas outside of the TNP’s control.

  • Elms Park refurbishment has not yet been delivered due to the landowner trying to gain alternative development.
  • The loss of the employment at the former DAF headquarters has wiped out the gain from the Rycote Lane employment site.
  • Changes in government policy meant that three of the large housing sites did not deliver better levels of home insulation.
  • The delay in SODC introducing Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding cost us a lot of the promised financial gains.
  • Failure by the District & County Councils to identify the need for private elderly accommodation caused a tsunami of interest and planning applications to build care homes in Thame.
  • The release of the Thame Fire Station site was planned for, but a new site has not been provided by the responsible agencies.

However, there have been many successes of the first TNP:

  • Employment – New job opportunities have been created, such as the purpose-built Windles and Groves site enabling these businesses to expand and offer more opportunities. The TNP also protected all the town’s employment land and High Street shops, until permitted development legislation changed.
  • Environment – Thame has received new pathways and open spaces on new, well designed and connected housing estates. Most residents live within 20 minutes of the town centre and countryside, meaning Thame continues to feel compact and has not sprawled into surrounding villages. New allotments have been delivered and, although delayed (another area outside of the TNP’s control) we now await the imminent handover of the sites. Thame’s new developments have much more open space than similar developments in other towns and villages.
  • Social and Community – Thame remains a real market town with good employment opportunities, thriving markets, festivals, events, and a town centre with charm. New residents have mostly embraced the community rather than establishing separate groups.
  • Infrastructure and Facilities – A new burial ground has been delivered at St Mary’s Church. Developer contributions have funded new play equipment, architect fees for the new Community Youth Centre, and new and improved sport facilities. The Cricket Pavilion redevelopment has also provided a new community space and a meeting place for the Thame Senior Friendship Centre.
  • Planning and Policy – The TNP allowed greater input and influence in pre-application discussions with developers. Delivery of the Thame Green Living Plan which is now actively progressing local environmental projects. TNP identified reserve sites which have come forward instead of unplanned for / speculative development elsewhere. The TNP visions and objectives have carried weight when arguing our case in planning.

Looking ahead, permitted development will continue to be a challenge as buildings can change use more easily. There is a greater aspiration for active and sustainable travel, and an expectation for infrastructure to enable that. Finally, Thame must deliver the housing allocation set out within the District’s Local Plan as well as our own identified need for specialist accommodation. In total this will be less than 200 homes.

Overall, the Neighbourhood Plan has allowed us to manage development within the town and have a level of control on the type of housing for the community. Without a Neighbourhood Plan, developers and landowners can put forward land as they wish and there is very little control. It can become a free for all.

 

4 Thame Green Living

Charles Boundy gave a presentation on behalf of Thame Green Living (TGL).

The global picture is very challenging, with war, floods, and droughts, and the unimaginable happening before our eyes. We seek normality but we live with uncertainty, which can make us feel angry and powerless, but we must find a way to plan ahead. This is where the Thame Green Living Plan (GLP) was born from, which was unanimously approved by the Town Council in July 2020. The 10-year GLP has five focus areas with actions for individuals, the community and infrastructure. TGL work with a range of organisations such as councils, volunteers, schools, environmental groups and landowners.

An exciting project that is underway is the development of a new accessible footpath at Rycote Meadow which has included a consultation, surveys, project planning, grant funding and the planting of 700 hedge whips and 29 trees. More volunteers are needed to help with the preliminary works for these projects. Mr. Boundy suggested that a new group could be formed with a focus on hedges given their importance in providing a natural boundary and carbon capture, and low cost. Watlington had a ‘hedge group’ who had plotted all the hedges in their parish.

TGL have promoted the Solar Streets project in Thame which generates electricity from solar panels for these homes and can also be used to charge the owner’s electric vehicles. Public electric vehicle charging points will be available in the Southern Road car park from next month. TGL are also working on an electric car hire club for Thame, to avoid households needing two cars. However, cars pollute, and pollution levels are higher within vehicles, and whilst active travel is the better option as it saves money and has health benefits, it must be safe. An aerial view of the town centre showing the areas designated for vehicles and for pedestrians, shows that pedestrians are pushed to the margins, congested parking and almost no greenery. Was this a desirable future? There was no time for complacency and involvement through a persistent and patient approach that managed expectations was needed now.

There were two main issues to consider. Firstly, Net Zero and how that can be achieved in Thame, and secondly aspirations for the Town Centre. Mr. Boundy encouraged the community to get involved in these discussions.

 

5 Thame Youth Projects

Linda Newton, Chair of Thame Youth Projects (TYP), gave a presentation on their current work. A previous youth worker had given a memorable quote “Young people are not a problem to solve, but a wonder to behold”.

TYP was formed in 2012 with support from the Town Council following withdrawal of funding for the town’s youth worker. The project started with a Youth Café at Lord Williams’s Lower School for ages 11-13 on Wednesday afternoons. This has since relocated to Christchurch with 65 attendees per session, and in 2017 it expanded to a Youth Zone for ages 14-17 due to increased demand which is now running from the Coffee House. A range of activities is provided including crafts, games, and cooking. TYP receive funding which means that it is accessible for all children, and no child is excluded due to financial difficulties. TYP opens all day on the school’s academic review day and offers a range of outdoor activities. Activity days are held during school holidays in partnership with local businesses and community organisations, and TYP were grateful to the community for enabling this.

Before the pandemic and when a Youth Worker is appointed, the TYP usually delivers a range of outreach projects including onsite school support for children, weekend outreach, Damascus training and work with PCSOs around Thame.

The location for the Community Youth Centre had been agreed as Southern Road Recreation Ground and the project was now at the design phase, which was exciting, for which there will be local consultations. TYP are actively recruiting a Youth Worker and hoping to expand the Youth Zone. All of this was possible thanks to the amazing volunteers and young people. It was important that Thame inputted into its young people as they are the future.

 

6 Open Forum – Questions from Electors

Cllr Cowell advised that the first section of the open forum would be for questions relating to the three presentations, and then it would be open for general questions.

Thame Neighbourhood Plan (TNP)

A member of East Thame Residents Association asked two questions. Were there plans to engage the local residents associations more in TNP2 as it was felt that engagement had been lower than for TNP1? Secondly, would there be a needs analysis for employment? TNP2 was proposing more employment than the District Council had allocated in their Local Plan, and there were concerns that this could lead to unnecessary warehouse units.

Cllr Cowell advised that the residents associations had engaged with the two TNP2 consultations and their views on the sites noted, but there were no plans for individual consultations with them. With regards to employment, this was a technical question for the Council’s Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Officer (NPCO) however employment was part of the review, and this was being looked at.

The Chair of the Cattle Market Action Group (CMAG) asked whether the Cattle Market would be part of the vision of TNP2? There is now a greater need for a large meeting space with smaller rooms, and it is important that the community, including CMAG, input into the future of the Cattle Market.

Cllr Cowell confirmed that the Cattle Market site is being carried over into TNP2 but the site (including the market area, the car park and Racquets Fitness Centre) is owned by the District Council, not the Town Council. District Councillor Pieter-Paul Barker advised that the future of the site was dependent on the relocation of Thame Farmers Mart, but this is expected to be within a few years. Cllr Barker advised that he had been asking questions about the site and that now was the right time to collectively decide its future. The District Council feel the site should be retained under their ownership, rather than a developer, so that they can control its future working in partnership with the community and Town Council.

A resident asked a few questions. Firstly, whether the three ‘cyclists dismount’ signs within a short distance of each other on Wenman Road could be removed as they do not serve a purpose? And secondly could a pedestrian crossing be installed on the A418 bypass to allow a safe crossing from the Old Long Crendon Road, on Oxford Road by the school, and on Tythrop Way by Chinnor Rugby Club? The resident was pleased that the presentation had acknowledged that cycling infrastructure had fallen short in the first neighbourhood plan, and it was hoped that TNP2 would not neglect cycling and walking.

County Councillor Nigel Champken-Woods asked the resident to email these concerns to him and he would follow it up. Enquiries had been made regarding a crossing on the A418 bypass and Highways would be inspecting the Old Long Crendon bridge in July.

A resident asked for the status of the Haddenham-Thame Greenway?

County Councillor Gregory advised that Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) were awaiting the outcome of a Government funding bid for active travel. Cllr Gregory felt passionately about this project and would continue to campaign for it within OCC and keep residents updated.

Thame Green Living (TGL)

The Clerk of Haddenham Parish Council, also a Thame resident, advised that Haddenham was taking part in the Street Scapes Project through their Neighbourhood Plan. This was a project to reduce through traffic and increase active travel.

Mr Boundy advised that he had passed their latest report to the Town Clerk and encouraged that Thame also took part in the scheme. TGL worked closely with Haddenham, and it was hoped that a lot could be learnt from them. Cllr Cowell advised that through the Town Council’s strategy and working structure review, it would work closer with TGL.

Thame Youth Projects (TYP)

A representative from Thame Music Academy offered to work with TYP given that private music lessons are a premium and funding for these at schools is being cut.

Mrs Newton was grateful for this offer and would get in touch.

Open Forum

A resident asked for clarity on residents parking in the town centre?

County Cllr Champken-Woods advised that the previous administration at OCC had approved the introduction of civil parking enforcement in Thame. Oxfordshire was one of the last counties to do this. There had been some issues with tickets being incorrectly issued on Park Street but there had been no change to the parking restrictions and car parking in the two town centre car parks remained free. Cllr Champken-Woods advised that any tickets which had been issued on the 2-hour limit on Park Street or by the Memorial Gardens (excluding outside Carmichael which was not exempt) would be cancelled by OCC as these areas were not being monitored whilst they were under review. If any resident had paid these, they should email Cllr Champken-Woods who would try to resolve it. The public consultation, which had been due to take place in November 2021, will happen in April and would look at residents parking. Cllr Champken-Woods advised that when parking meters are installed on the High Street, he and Cllr Gregory had secured 30 minutes of free parking.

A resident asked whether restrictions on Nelson Street and East Street would be enforced, or would they be considered for residents permits? The current restrictions were already impacting on residents due to insufficient parking, and this was likely to worsen with increased traffic due to construction at The Elms. It was important that any consultation prioritised and considered all resident’s needs.

Cllr Champken-Woods advised that residents parking permits should improve the situation by better managing the existing parking spaces, although it was noted that the number of parking spaces required exceeded the number available and it was not possible to create more parking spaces. The whole of Thame would be consulted on the consultation, which would include Park Street, Nelson Street, East Street, lower High Street and North Street.

A resident asked whether the parking consultation would take place through surveys or meetings?

The County Councillors advised that this hadn’t been confirmed yet, but one option being considered was for weekend drop-in events with Officers from the County Council.

A resident asked whether there would be a charge for the parking permits and whether permits would be limited to one per house? It was felt that residents would pay for a permit if it improved their parking arrangements.

Cllr Champken-Woods advised that this had not been confirmed, but that any comments or suggestions regarding the residents parking scheme should be fed into the consultation.

Cllr Cowell asked the County Councillors to communicate when the consultation opens and how residents can respond.

Cllr Cowell concluded the meeting by reminding residents that the Town Council is there to support and assist them. Residents were encouraged to speak to the Town Council if they had any questions or concerns, and whilst the Town Council could not solve everything, it would help wherever it could.

 

 

The meeting concluded at 8:33pm

 

 

Signed ………………………………                Date ………………………………

Chairman, Annual Town Meeting