24 April 2012 – Minutes
Minutes of the Annual Town Meeting of Thame Town Council held on 24 April 2012 at 7.30pm in the Upper Chamber, Thame Town Hall
Present: 55 Residents and Councillors.
There was an apology for absence from Councillor M Ciortan.
The Minutes of the Meeting held on Tuesday 12 April 2011 were confirmed as a correct record and signed by the Town Mayor.
3 Town Mayor’s Report for 2011-2012
Town Mayor Cllr David Bretherton welcomed everyone to the meeting and briefly reflected on the events of the past year. He mentioned in particular the town’s first Music in the Park (MiTP) event at Elms Park, which had been a huge success, and this year’s MitP promised to be even better. It was a great way to remind residents about Elms Park. Thame’s Got Talent, and the literary and food festivals had been other highlights.
Major projects for the Town Council had been the refurbishment of the play area at Queen Elizabeth Circle, and the purchase of a depot for the maintenance team. The continuing refurbishment of the Town Hall was being carried out in parcels of work, with much of the interior work being carried out by the Council’s maintenance team, to save on cost. The exterior of the building still had to be tackled.
Cllr Bretherton acknowledged that one of the pleasures of being Town Mayor was to raise money in support of local charities, and he would be presenting cheques to Thame Scouts and the Citizens Advice Bureau for £1,250 each.
There was the ongoing challenge of the Neighbourhood Plan. The latter was the single most important agenda item the Town Council had embarked upon for many years, and its outcome would influence how Thame developed over the next 20-30 years.
4 Neighbourhood Planning: what’s it all about?
Councillor Mike Dyer, who had taken a particular interest in Neighbourhood Planning, explained that planning decisions had been too centralised, with the District Council (SODC) making the decisions. However, the 2011 Localism Act meant that such decisions could now be community-led and could challenge SODC.
The Council had decided that Thame should be a ‘Front Runner’ in the Neighbourhood Planning process because the town faced SODC’s Core Strategy and its proposed allocation of 800 more houses for Thame, with all the attendant infrastructure deficiencies and needs therein, as well as the current planning application by Sainsbury’s to take over the Cattle Market site. Adopting a Neighbourhood Plan (NP) would mean that Thame could manage its own growth and take more control, in a way that was appropriate for the town and its people.
However, there were many challenges associated with the preparation of an NP, such as maintaining the interest of residents, dealing with their raised expectations and, ultimately, achieving a ‘Yes’ vote for the Referendum, without which the NP would not become a legal document and the future would be unknown.
Questions for Cllr Dyer included one from resident Paul Earley, who asked the current situation regarding the housing numbers SODC wanted Thame to absorb via its Core Strategy. It was confirmed that the Inspector in charge of scrutinising the Core Strategy would make his decision in 4-6 weeks.
5 Thame’s Economy: could we do more? Tell us what you think.
Trudy Godfrey, the Shared Economic Development Team Leader at South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC), explained that their aims were to strengthen and support the current strong base of local business in Thame. They wanted to promote the area as an attractive place to do business and to grow the visitor economy.
In their efforts to support vibrant market towns, Trudy Godfrey cited SODC’s development and delivery of annual action plans for each town; their annual footfall survey and vacant retail units survey, and the creation of ‘Let’s do Business’ – inward investment fact sheets.
Ms Godfrey listed the District Council’s key successes in 2011-2012. They had secured £20,000 funding for neighbourhood planning pilots in Thame; delivered £50,000 worth of projects using SEEDA funding; developed visitmidsomer.com, and provided signage for trails and walks.
Their plans for 2012-13 included creating new ‘trails’ to take visitors around the districts (food, historic buildings, literary links) with downloadable maps and an i-Phone application; comprehensive redevelopment of website pages and exploring use of social media; Thame web portal, Thame equipment pool and £10,000 ‘project fund’ for economic development projects in Thame.
6 Thame For Business
Cat Young, Chair, 21st Century Thame reported the Group work together to make Thame a vibrant place to live and work. They are a town partnership recognising, businesses, residents, local Council and undertake joint projects.
The Group has implemented a number of projects one of which is the Loyalty Group this continues to grow and currently there are 950 card holders.
Shop Fronts have been improved to make the town more attractive and enhance the first impression of the Town for visitors. This was achieved by a grant of 50/50 from retailers and SODC. There will be a second round of funding for Shop Front improvement.
Two projects still being progressed are: The Equipment Pool, funded by SODC through grant funding, will offer hire of equipment to assist businesses and charities to stage events and the installation of 30 waymarkers.
7 Open Forum – Questions from Electors
Chris Walters, Thame Youth Theatre, asked if the Town Council had any strategies or aspirations for a community building for the youth theatre and other groups in the town? Mike Dyer confirmed that the Town Council had engaged a consultant to look at this issue, and an interim report had been produced.
Mr Richardson commented, The Arts Society formed in 1965 has over 300 members, they require a large space with adequate parking which has resulted in a move to Wescott to accommodate The Arts Society’s needs thereby taking away trade from Thame.
In response Cllr Bretherton stated parking is a requirement for any Community Centre and this would be taken into consideration.
Val Jonas, speaking on behalf of TAL festival is struggling to find a suitable venue for events.
Alan Garrett commented that St Mary’s Church can accommodate in excess of 250 people and would welcome enquiries for use but is never asked.
Jackie Nicholls, Spartartics stated the group are finding it difficult to find a space big enough to meet and at a reasonable cost. They require an area that can be used for exhibitions, community centre and actors; does the Council have any plans to provide a Community Centre? Cllr Bretherton reported that the Council was aware of the needs of the community but any facility had to be commercially viable and is currently subject to investigation at the Council.
Val Jonas commented that the Cattle Market needs to be retained as part of the Town Centre incorporating a Community Centre that is adequate to accommodate a large number of people.
Cllr Bretherton responded the Neighbourhood Plan would identify a strategy for investigation into a community centre, a consultant would undertake the investigation as it is a Council aspiration.
Several other questions followed about the possibility of an arts/community centre and Cllr Bretherton acknowledged that many Councillors had the same aspiration but it would have to be a well resourced and commercially viable proposition.
Maurice Kirtland asked if there was anything that the Town or County Council could do to keep Thame Show alive? Cllr Bretherton reported that a new chairman would be elected in 3 weeks. The show certainly did need support from the town and businesses, and requests would be made to the respective Councils for help.
Mike Hawthorne asked if it is true that the Town Council is going to sell the Stone Close Allotments for development? Cllr Bretherton reported this had not been discussed.
Gary, CAASO asked who had said that we had to have 850 houses? Do we have a choice and say no to all of them? Aylesbury is expanding therefore why are we not saying no to building 850 new homes? Cllr Bretherton explained the South East Regional plan had been received from central government, with the figure of 775 new homes.
Open Forum – Questions from Electors Cont’d
However, this is in discussion and still open at SODC. SODC are required to have 10 years developable land with site allocations, clarification is required from the Inspector regarding housing numbers and whether windfall developments that naturally happen are included within the allocated housing numbers.
Peter Woodman asked if the consultants will take on board the view of the people and will they include 3 to 4 options?
The Town Clerk explained the process regarding the Neighbourhood Plan.
The Neighbourhood plan working groups are reviewing strategic areas such as traffic movement within the Town in conjunction with developers to form the bigger picture and contribute. There was no plan to extend the bypass to Moreton.
Julie West commented not everyone has access to a website and booklets containing events would be helpful. After looking on the website ‘Visit Oxfordshire’ there were no events listed for Thame.
The meeting concluded at 9.15pm
Chairman, Annual Town Meeting 2013