01 March 2022 – Minutes
THAME TOWN COUNCIL
Minutes of the Meeting of Thame Town Council held on 1 March 2022 at 6:30pm in the Upper Chamber, Town Hall, Thame.
Cllrs B Austin, D Bretherton, N Champken-Woods (Deputy Mayor), M Deacock, A Dite, D Dodds, M Dyer, L Emery, H Fickling, K Gregory, C Jones, A Midwinter, H Richards, and T Wyse
M Sturdy, Town Clerk
K Slater, Responsible Financial Officer & Office Administration Manager
L Fuller, Committee Services Officer
1 Apologies for Absence
Apologies for absence were received from Cllrs Cowell (personal) and Tipping (business).
In the absence of the Chairman, Deputy Mayor Cllr Champken-Woods chaired the meeting.
2 Declarations of Interest and Dispensations
There were no declarations of interest.
3 Civic Announcements
The civic attendances were noted.
The Deputy Mayor made a personal announcement regarding the Ukraine crisis:
“Along with the rest of our country, I am appalled at this baseless invasion on Ukraine and our thoughts are firmly with the people of Ukraine whose fear and uncertainty must be acutely palpable. I think particularly of the people of Chornomorsk who are twinned with Sinaia our twin town in Romania. I sincerely hope the people of Ukraine are able to withstand the horror of this dreadful assault on their country and come through what are and will be incredibly difficult times. I am sure the people of Thame will join with me in condemning this unprovoked attack on a sovereign country and offer what support we can.”
Members gave a round of applause in support and voted unanimously for the Town Council to purchase and fly the Ukrainian flag outside the Town Hall.
4 Public Participation and Public Questions
There were no applications to address the Council.
There were no questions put to the Council.
5 Thame COP 26
Cllr Richards entered the meeting during this item.
Ms. Lisa Meaney and Mr. Andy West from Thame COP 26 provided the Council with a presentation on their experiences and findings from the Thame COP 26 event. The pilot project aims to increase biodiversity, reduce emissions, and connect Thame to the global COP summit. The project was created by Wild Pear CIC and funded through a grant from South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC), with support from all the environmental organisations in Thame as well the schools, Town Council, charities, and local businesses, who had made commitments to make positive changes that are appropriate for their organisations. Thame COP had approached 60 organisations of which over 50 had made commitments that could be seen on the Thame COP website, for example Kubota are installing an electric vehicle charger and TillyNilly have switched to paper packaging. An important part of the Thame COP event was the Change Makers event which involved Lord Williams’s School students undertaking biodiversity tours in the town and speaking directly to people who are making and leading change in a range of sectors. The Thame COP researchers also spoke to 100 people outside the Town Hall where there was a huge willingness within the community to talk and act on environmental issues, however there was a sense of not knowing where to start which prompted calls for leadership at national to local level, as well as a need for infrastructure and connections. The latest IPCC report stated that tackling climate problems involves everyone and differing views can be reconciled, and Thame COP felt this is what Thame needs.
Moving to the next steps, the Thame COP 26 event had clearly shown a strong readiness to act from the community and businesses. This, in addition to the adoption of the Green Living Plan by the Town Council in 2020, the post-pandemic change, and the appointment of a new Town Clerk, has contributed to a proposal by Thame COP for Thame Town Council. The first suggestion was for the Town Council to create a management position for an environmental officer to give environmental issues a focal point rather than it being split over different committees, working groups, and Officers, with support from community groups to implement change. The second proposal was for an environmental forum for organisations and the Town Council to meet regularly, share advice and engage the community, with the potential for an annual environment-themed event. It would be a forum for communication, coordination, collaboration, and catalysing community engagement.
Mr. Charles Boundy of Thame Green Living congratulated the Thame COP organisers for their vision and successful delivery of the event, as well as to the volunteers and businesses who have made commitments. Mr. Boundy fully supported the proposals put forward by Thame COP. Thame Green Living have a good working relationship with the Town Council, and it was hoped that part of the communications would include better communication with the public about the statutory and financial limits of the Town Council. It was hoped that in a years’ time, Thame COP would be part of the community through regular meetings, COP27 would be celebrated and attract more pledges and the Town Council would have new structures in place which would hopefully include an environmental officer. Focus areas were proposed: green spaces (projects include Thame Trees and an upcoming environmental land management scheme), transport and travel (projects include 20mph speed limits, no idling schemes, safe cycling, and electric vehicle charging points and car hire clubs), and home energy (projects include increasing uptake of the Solar Streets scheme and retrofitting insulation). Overall, Mr. Boundy urged the Town Council to support the proposals put forward by Thame COP and engage with them to sustain the environment.
Members thanked Thame COP for their presentation, and congratulations were given to Mr. Boundy and Thame Green Living for their awards at the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire’s Climate Action Hero Awards.
6 Report from County Councillors N Champken-Woods and K Gregory
The report was noted. Cllr Gregory was pleased that the County Council had budgeted for Red Kite Family Centre to have a one-year rent holiday in recognition of the financial pressures they are facing. Through the budget setting, it was also agreed that the County Council would fully fund 20mph speed limits in towns and parishes. There were currently consultations open relating to the Local Transport and Connectivity Plan, Library Strategy and Pedestrian Crossing on Wellington Street. The report also showed a breakdown of the Thame organisations which Cllrs Champken-Woods and Gregory had awarded funding through the County Councillor Priority Fund. Cllr Champken-Woods reported that works to install the new electric vehicle charging points in the Southern Road car park will begin week commencing 14 March.
A question was raised with regards to the intention behind the HGV strategy? The idea is to concentrate HGVs on strategic road networks and limit their access to villages where the roads cannot handle these vehicles and there are currently no restrictions, such as Chinnor.
A question was raised with regards to how the proposed HGV changes, 20mph speed limits, and parking enforcement would be enforced? It was felt that the current parking enforcement had not resulted in an improvement, town centre parking was neglected, and other areas were not adequately monitored. It was also felt that there had been a lot of misinformation. Cllr Gregory advised that with regards to parking, if there were particular issues then these needed addressing and this would be, and has been, reported back to the relevant County Council officers and contractor, although it was noted that the parking changes were still subject to a consultation. Regarding enforcement of 20mph speed limits, to an extent it was hoped this would self-police through making people think about their speed however ultimately it would be enforced by the police as per all speed limits within the town. Members were reminded that the Town Council has speed-watch radar guns which community groups can hire, and the police are informed after three speeding offences are recorded.
A question was raised with regards to the progress on establishing a route for the Haddenham-Thame cycleway? Cllr Gregory advised that she did not have an update but hoped that one would be available once the outcome of the funding bid was known.
A question was raised with regards to where coaches should park following the closure of the coach parking at the former Esso garage, and that the Cattle Market was no longer allowing coach parking? The former is private land and was subject to a planning application that resulted in the loss of HGV parking, which was supported by the District and County Council, although Cllr Gregory advised she did speak against the application as a District Councillor. The County Councillors agreed to investigate the matter of coach parking and signage.
With regards to the dangerous crossing at Nelson Street, a question was raised as to whether anything could be done about the dangerous crossing at Bell Lane / High Street. Members also noted that the new signage for St Joseph’s School on Southern Road was dangerous and not visible due to its low height. The County Councillors agreed to investigate these matters.
7 Reports from South Oxfordshire District Councillors
Apologies were given that a written report had not been provided in advance, but it would be circulated after the meeting.
District Councillor Barker reported that the District Council’s budget continues to see the benefits of insourcing its work and the senior finance team are able to better manage the council’s finances by identifying efficiencies. There had been a noticeable improvement in the 5-year forecast for the Council’s general reserves which were now expected to only fall from £25million to £18million, rather than from £26million to £5million as forecast in 2019. With regards to council-owned housing, a saving of £65,000 had been identified through using capital funding to provide bed & breakfast accommodation for those on housing waiting lists or the homeless. S106 funding would be used for the purchase of social rent housing.
SODC would be investing in infrastructure using Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) funding, including £180,000 at Thame Leisure Centre towards replacing heating systems, new gym equipment and refurbishing the swimming pool. Cllr Barker welcomed ideas for other projects to use CIL funding on.
With regards to homelessness, following intensive work prior to Christmas no rough sleepers were recorded within South & Vale as of 31 December 2021. SODC was the first council to adopt a ‘Housing First’ approach towards homelessness.
SODC are currently consulting on the CIL Charging Schedule and Developer Contributions and are proposing increasing the amount levied from developers which would increase the amount that SODC and TTC would receive. SODC are also seeking to remove the exemption for elderly person’s accommodation as this has been exploited. SODC have issued a new Planning Enforcement Statement which sets out how cases will be triaged, to try and manage the backlog of 700 live cases. It was noted that SODC were in the top 4% nationally for enforcement and that it was not a statutory duty.
Finally, Cllr Barker advised that the Joint Design Guide was open for consultation, and that SODC had adopted a new Gambling Policy noting that this would prevent applications for casinos within the district from being considered.
With regards to the CIL consultation, it was requested that the links to the consultation be provided so these could be included in the newsletter. A question was raised with regards to the impact of raising developer contributions on house prices, which were already high in Thame? Cllr Barker advised that the viability assessment, which was available on the online consultation page, considered profits vs levies and identified that the charges by SODC were lower than surrounding districts, although it was important to avoid penalising the type of housing that the District Council was seeking. It was noted that SODC was one of the first councils to adopt a CIL policy and it was always the intention to increase the amount levied from developers. It was also noted that CIL would be banded across the district with Henley having a higher rate, Didcot having a lower rate and Thame sitting in the middle.
Post meeting note: Members received the District Councillor’s Report via e-mail.
8 Members Questions (under Standing Order 11)
Cllr Dodds asked three questions:
- Would the Town Council consider thanking Thame Wombles for their fantastic work in clearing vegetation on the Old Long Crendon Road? The vegetation had become overgrown and was causing dangerous damage to the bridge.
- Can the Town Council investigate who is responsible for the Old Long Crendon Road bridges?
- Can the Town Council also investigate who is responsible for the section of the A418 bypass where the footpath crosses it? It was felt that this crossing is dangerous and a safer crossing is needed.
With regards to the first question, the Chairman advised that the Town Council would look at how it can further recognise the amazing work of the Thame Wombles, following their Town Award last year, with one possibility being a nomination for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. As a County Councillor, the Chairman agreed to look into the questions relating to land ownership and responsibility. It was noted that the County Council are responsible for the road up to the bridge and SODC are responsible for clearing it.
Cllr Dite asked what the Town Council’s procedure was for requests from the community to hold street parties for the Queen’s Jubilee on council owned land? The Chairman advised that a response would be given after the meeting.
Cllr Bretherton asked when would the Town Council start discussions on 20mph speed limits? The Town Clerk advised that the matter was on the agenda for the next meeting of the Transport Plan Working Group and, following that, it would be brought to the relevant committee for consideration.
Cllr Richards asked whether it was possible for a water fountain to be installed outside the Town Hall? It was felt this would have health benefits and suggested that it could be funded through Community Infrastructure Levy funding. The Chairman advised this would be investigated.
The Minutes of the Committee Meeting held on 18 January 2022 were confirmed as a correct record, and were signed by the Chairman.
10 Policy & Resources Committee
The minutes of the meeting held on 15 February 2022 were noted.
11 Community, Leisure & Recreation Committee
The minutes of the meeting held on 8 February 2022 were noted.
The committee had received a presentation from the Thame Town Music Festival director and, following that, made a recommendation to Full Council to support the festival with £5,000 funding subject to confirmation that the funds were available.
The Town Clerk advised that if the Town Council financially supported the event, there were a few options available. There was £1,500 unspent in this year’s grant budget, £4,582 in earmarked reserves for grants, or the Town Council could fund it through general reserves however this was currently forecast to have a £18,000 deficit at year end.
A question was raised as to whether the event had previously been supported by the Town Council? The Town Clerk advised that last year they received £2,500 to assist with event cancellation losses, the previous year £5,000 was budgeted but not awarded, and the year before £5,000 was awarded.
In terms of using the grants budget, it was felt that it was more appropriate to use earmarked reserves rather than current or future grant budgets. It was clarified that the unspent grant budget of £1,500 was allocated to Lighthouse Thame and, whilst that event did not happen this year, a further £1,500 had been budgeted for next year so this year’s underspend would go into general reserves at year end but currently was available for organisations to apply for it.
It was felt that the Town Council should support the event however it was recognised that the Town Council continued to be impacted by the effects of the pandemic and cuts to the budget had to be made. It was suggested that the Town Council should not fund this event again next year, which was noted for future discussions.
- The Town Council provide funding of £4,500 to Thame Town Music Festival through the grants earmarked reserves.
12 Planning & Environment Committee
The minutes of the meetings held on 1 February 2022 and 22 February 2022 were noted. The Chair of the committee advised that the committee had made a response to the District Council’s Joint Design Guide consultation.
13 Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Committee
The minutes of the meeting held on 1 February 2022 were noted.
The committee had made a recommendation to Full Council to approve the five proposed locations of the new Public Art installations, which would be on the Thame Meadows estate, on the footpath connecting Thame Meadows to Oxford Road, on Spring Path, Southern Road and outside the Town Hall.
- The proposed locations of the Public Art be approved.
14 Internal Audit
Members received the Second Internal Audit Interim Update Report 2021-22. The Responsible Financial Officer (RFO) & Office Administration Manager advised that there were no issues that warranted any comment.
15 Effectiveness of Internal Control / Financial Risk
The RFO & Office Administration Manager advised that the financial risk assessments had been reviewed. The proposed changes, as shown in red text, reflected that the Town Council is no longer responsible for parking administration and that it now has an extra debit card to provide better back up for Officers.
Members were asked to come and sign the payments when requested as delays to the payments being authorised result in additional work for the RFO & Office Administration Manager.
There being no further comments, Members approved the measures to mitigate the financial risks and effectiveness of internal control.
The RFO & Office Administration Manager left the meeting after this item.
16 Unit 8 Goodson Industrial Mews – P22/S0064/FUL
The application is a resubmission of planning application P20/S1355/FUL, which the Town Council previously objected to on 2 March 2021 on the grounds that it was not in conformance with Thame Neighbourhood Plan policy WS12, which can now be strengthened by Local Plan policy EMP3.
Policy EMP3 requires that the site is either effectively marketed for one year or it is demonstrated that the site is not viable. In this case the applicant chose the latter however this does not represent an independent view but rather seeks the premise which the applicant then tries to justify. The commercial viability has been assessed in the context of the building, however both Local Plan and Neighbourhood Plan policies seek the viability to be assessed in terms of the site. The report had not considered that the building or land could be redeveloped, which could be suitable for starter units. Policy EMP3 also specifies that sites should be considered for mixed use including employment.
It was noted that the Commercial Viability Report erroneously stated that the generation of council tax is a material planning consideration.
- Thame Town Council objects to planning application P22/S0064/FUL as it is not in conformance with Thame Neighbourhood Plan policy WS12.
17 Amended Planning Applications to Note
It was noted that Officers had reviewed the amended plans and additional information received in relation to planning applications P21/S0644/FUL (Pearces Yard, Aylesbury Road) and P21/S1632/RM (Land North of Rycote Lane) and recommended that the Town Council’s original objections / comments are upheld.
With regards to the proposed care home (P21/S0644/FUL), it was noted that the Town Council had undertaken a survey to understand and identify local needs for specialist housing, in light of Thame having several care homes built or applied for in recent years and developers justifying their own developments. Cllr Bretherton advised he had raised this with SODC, who were monitoring it as it was a district wide issue.
As per the previous agenda item, it was noted the applicant for P21/S0644/FUL has only considered that the existing building, rather than the site, is not and could not be suitable for employment.
18 Consultations (South Oxfordshire District Council) – Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) Charging Schedule and Developer Contributions Supplementary Planning Document (SPD)
It was noted that that these consultations close on Tuesday 22 March 2022. They have been circulated by e-mail and Members are encouraged to respond individually.
19 Town Hall Clock Tower
It was noted that a structural surveyor inspected the clock tower on 14 February 2022. Early indications suggest the tower is structurally sound and as anticipated, repairs are required to the exterior woodwork on at least two sides of the tower.
A question was raised as to what the cost was and whether this could be afforded? The Town Clerk advised that Council had already authorised the £5,000 emergency expenditure and the report, which had been received earlier in the day, suggested that no further costs were expected.
20 Schedule of Meetings
It was noted that, in agreement with the Mayor and Town Clerk, the date of the Annual Meeting of the Council has been brought forward a week to Tuesday 10 May 2022.
21 Exclusion of the Public
- Under Section 1, Paragraph 2 of The Public Bodies (Admission to Meetings) Act 1960 the press and public be excluded from the meeting for the following items of business because publicity would be prejudicial to the public interest by reason of the confidential nature of the business to be transacted.
22 Personnel Committee
The minutes of the meeting held on 15 February 2022 were noted.
The committee had recommended that the staffing review process be approved by Full Council. The Town Clerk explained that this would be an information and knowledge sharing process with Officers to take into account the changes that have occurred as a result of the pandemic, staff requests to change working practices, and consider what changes to the structure and processes might be required to deliver the Town Council’s aims, which would include consideration of the earlier proposal by Thame COP for an environmental officer. This would involve continued discussion with the Personnel and Policy & Resources committees and Full Council.
Concern was raised that a new structure ahead of a broader strategy might be presumptuous. The Town Clerk advised that there were currently a range of staff requests to change working hours, clunky internal processes and crossovers of job descriptions which needed to be addressed and resolved first, with Members kept informed and any decisions brought to Council. Members agreed that the Town Clerk has delegated responsibility for the management of staff and the delivery of the Town Council’s services.
- The process proposal by the Town Clerk to review the staff structure be approved.
- The closing of the information centre for one day to allow the staff workshop to go ahead be approved. (March 31st 2022 – date to be confirmed).
- The research into a staff team building event for 2022/23 be approved.
The meeting concluded at 8:17pm.
Signed ………………………….. Date: ………………