10 August 2021 – Minutes
THAME TOWN COUNCIL
Minutes of the Meeting of Thame Town Council held on 10 August 2021 at 6:30pm in the Upper Chamber, Thame Town Hall.
Cllrs B Austin, D Bretherton, P Cowell (Town Mayor), N Champken-Woods (Deputy Mayor), A Dite, D Dodds, M Dyer, H Fickling, C Jones, A Midwinter, H Richards, and T Wyse
C Pinnells, Acting Town Clerk
K Slater, Office Administration Manager / Acting Responsible Financial Officer
A Oughton, Asset Manager
G Markland, Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Officer
L Fuller, Committee Services Officer
P Jarvis, Jarvis Planning
1 Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received from Cllrs Deacock (personal), Emery (personal), Gregory (personal) and Tipping (business).
2 Declarations of Interest and Dispensations
There were no declarations of interest or dispensations.
3 Civic Announcements
The Mayor’s civic attendances were noted. The Mayor added that requests were coming in thick and fast following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions
4 Public Participation and Public Questions
Cllr Bretherton entered the meeting during this item.
The Mayor read out the questions which had been received from the public and their respective responses.
- “Are there any plans to introduce residents parking permits for those who live in areas with time limited (two hours) on street parking, similar to those in other parts of Oxfordshire?”
This question has been passed to Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) officers who were going to incorporate this within their presentation under Item 5 of this agenda.
- “The centre of town, especially North Street, has become extremely weedy in the last year or so. How bad does this have to get before someone takes action? Can we please have a clear statement on what TTC intends to do about it?”
“Does the council have the budget or resources to clear our streets and main roads of the large amounts of detritus/weed growth. If so, is there a timetable for that to happen?”
The Town Council does not budget or have resources to clear the streets as this is a South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) / OCC provision. North Street will not get cleaned until the September Fair, when all the cars are moved which makes it easier for the Street Cleaner to do so. The SODC Waste Team are coming to Thame from 4 October to 11 October 2021. They will be litter picking, sweeping and removing weeds/moss on pavements. They will not spray weeds, cut grass or vegetation or remove weeds or moss which are on roads. SODC only clear land to which the public is permitted access and that is under the direct control of the district council.
The responses to these questions, as above, will be made via email in line with Standing Order 8.2g.
5 Civil Parking Enforcement
Mr Keith Stenning and Mr Jim Whiting, both Officers at Oxfordshire County Council, gave a presentation on their draft civil parking enforcement proposals for Thame. The proposal had been prepared following preliminary discussions with the Town Council. Three of the five districts in Oxfordshire do not have civil parking enforcement, and Oxfordshire is one of the last authorities in the country without it. The idea was first proposed in 2008, and then in 2018 OCC were approached by SODC to restart the discussions.
It was important that the scheme, which would be a county-run project, was cost neutral and not a money-making exercise. A feasibility study was conducted where it was concluded that an element of Pay & Display parking would be required, which is consistent with Banbury and Bicester. Pay and display parking had positives such as a greater turnover of spaces and an increase in footfall. Pay & display would be introduced on Cornmarket, High Street and Upper High Street. OCC, through a contractor, would manage all parking in the town. OCC were not legally able to set targets on these contractors.
The existing town centre car parks would remain free. The Town Council currently manages residents parking permits within the Upper High Street car park, and it was being proposed that those with permits would be exempt from the Limited Waiting / Pay & Display areas as shaded in pink and yellow on the map (Appendix 5a), as to not add more wording to the signage in the car parks.
At present, Thames Valley Police are responsible for enforcing on-street parking in the town centre but do not have the resources to do this, so civil parking enforcement would provide a consistent enforcement within Thame. The intention of the scheme was for restrictions to be understandable, formalised, and appropriate for their location. Civil parking enforcement would promote behavioural changes such as limiting the use of cars and also open the door for residents parking schemes in areas not currently covered.
The proposals would be subject to a full public consultation in September 2021. The Officers concluded by advising that this was not the end of the story as OCC would be working with the Town Council once the proposals were implemented to improve parking management for residents across Thame, which could include changes to parking restrictions or residents’ parking schemes, and OCC were open to ideas.
It was clarified that the black dots on the map represented existing parking signage, and the pink dots showed proposed locations for pay and display machines, subject to a site visit to confirm suitability.
A question was raised as to how OCC would manage vehicles which park on the High Street all day as they work in the Town Centre? Mr Stenning advised that OCC would enforce any parking on single / double yellow lines and where vehicles overstayed their parking. The red line shown on the map showed where parking would be enforced to start with, but OCC were not limited to this area and would be enforcing across the whole county.
Concern was raised for residents who currently park on streets with restrictions as they have no allocated parking, such as on Park Street and North Street, and whether exemptions could be made for these areas? Mr Whiting advised that as part of the consultations, the Town Council would be invited to submit their concerns and suggestions which would be fed to the contractors. Whilst OCC could not rule out particular areas from enforcement, it would be a gradual and transitional start before expanding the enforcement. OCC were keen to understand the aspirations of the Town Council, adding that ideally in the longer term there would not be exemptions as areas would either have restrictions or be residents only parking.
A question was raised as to whether it was possible for parking restrictions to be removed in areas where residents currently park, such as lower High Street? It was possible to revoke restrictions, however it would be preferable that these areas have residents parking.
Members sought reassurance on the financial model of the proposals. OCC advised that the financial model was presented to and approved by Cabinet in October 2020.
Concern was raised as to the impact of the proposals on the vibrancy of the High Street and also that parking problems would be displaced to other areas. Were OCC going to monitor the impact of the proposed changes? OCC suggested that the Town Council began to think of areas where they wanted to see change and feed this back to OCC in a couple of months’ time.
The Chairman thanked the Officers for their presentation and was pleased that they would be working with the Town Council on the introduction of civil parking enforcement in Thame.
It was moved and seconded that Item 16 be taken next.
6 Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Boundary Change
The Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Officer (NPCO) advised that unfortunately Mr Sheehan, who had submitted the proposal, could not attend the meeting due to personal circumstances and gave his apologies. The proposal was to expand the Chilterns AONB to include the parish of Thame. This was not a formal consultation or being conducted by Natural England although Mr Sheehan hoped that understanding the Town Council’s views would help strengthen the proposal.
Members supported the proposal in principle, but concern was raised that the map appeared to actually omit Thame from the proposed boundary change of the Chilterns AONB. If this was the case, this would potentially be disastrous as development would be pushed to Thame as it would sit just on the boundary of the AONB. It was also noted that if Thame were to be included, consideration would need to be taken as to avoid imposing development on neighbouring parishes. It was noted that an AONB designation does not prohibit development but aims to ensure that reasonable development takes place.
- Thame Town Council would like Thame to be included in the consultation to expand the Chilterns AONB to include the Parish of Thame.
7 Report from County Councillors N Champken-Woods and K Gregory
The report was noted. Cllr Champken-Woods added that no applications had been made yet to either his or Cllr Gregory’s Councillor Priority Fund of £15,000 each.
8 Reports from South Oxfordshire District Councillors
The report was noted.
District Councillor Barker highlighted the change to the planning application call-in process. Last year emergency arrangements were introduced which prevented ‘minor’ planning applications being automatically referred to the District’s Planning Committee if the Town Council’s recommendation conflicted with the Case Officer’s recommendation. Cllr Barker advised that he and Cllr Bretherton had proposed to South Oxfordshire District Council (SODC) that the Council should not accept the Officer’s recommendation to make these changes permanent. Their proposal was unanimously carried; however, it was noted that due to Officer workloads and the committee’s capacity they would need to be mindful of the volume of applications going to committee.
Cllr Bretherton added that regarding the recent appeal decision at Sonning Common whereby the Planning Inspector had granted permission for a retirement village within the Chilterns AONB, SODC had considered its options and taken the decision to take the matter to Judicial Review.
Cllr Barker advised that garden waste collections were currently suspended due to severe staff shortages at Biffa as a result of a national shortage of HGV drivers. Emergency measures had been in place however collections were being missed and it was agreed between the District Councils and Biffa, that collections for recycling, general waste and food waste would be prioritised during August. It was anticipated that Biffa would still fulfil their contract to achieve 20 collections this year. Biffa had raised wages and bonuses to attract HGV drivers, and SODC were assisting through publicity.
A question was raised as to whether garden waste customers would be entitled to a refund if the contracted 20 collections were not achieved? Cllr Barker was not sure and would have to check the arrangement, however as garden waste is collected fortnightly, there was scope for 6 collections to be missed and so far this year only four had been / would be missed (January and August) so a further two collections to be missed before the contract had been breached.
A question was raised as to whether garden waste could be prioritised over general waste collection given the time of year? General waste collection was a legal obligation, so this was not possible. Members also reiterated the concerns raised under the public questions earlier regarding weeds in Thame. Where weeds were growing on the highway, this was a County Council matter. County Cllr Champken-Woods advised that he would raise this at his meeting with the Highways Inspector next week.
9 Members Questions (under Standing Order 11)
No questions were raised.
The minutes of the Council meeting held on 5 July 2021 were approved as a correct record and signed by the Mayor.
11 Policy & Resources Committee
The minutes of the meeting held on 3 August 2021 were noted.
12 Community, Leisure & Recreation Committee
The minutes of the meeting held on 20 July 2021 were noted. Cllr Dite advised that Item 11 of those minutes relating to the Cut & Collect Mower had been brought to Full Council for discussion and resolution this evening, under Item 19.
13 Planning & Environment Committee
The minutes of the meetings held on 6 July 2021 and 27 July 2021 were noted.
14 Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Committee
The minutes of the meeting held on 6 July 2021 were noted.
15 1357 – P20/S4801/RM – DAF Trucks Ltd, Kingsmead Business Park – Amendment No.2
Cllr Bretherton left the meeting during the discussion and voting of this item.
The Town Council had a long history with this site. Having reviewed the amended plans, the NPCO was now recommending that the Town Council supported the application. In February 2021, the Town Council were deeply dissatisfied with the proposals and objected on various grounds. The scheme was poorly design with no explanation for the design style. In June 2021, a set of amended plans were submitted and due to timings the NPCO provided a delegated response based on the Town Council’s original objections. Following this, Town Council Officers met with the applicant, architects, and agent in July 2021 to discuss the Town Council’s concerns and receive the latest amendments.
The NPCO considered that the amended plans were much stronger and reflective of the site, its history, and the immediate environment. The size and quality of the central area has been significantly improved and was now more understandable. Another notable change was on the approach to the site which now proposed a more formal layout, modern housing design with balconies on the southern site and parking repositioned as to not be an important feature.
At the meeting with the agents, the NPCO explained that the Town Council was looking for the design to reflect the surrounding areas, such as the modern buildings at Windles and Groves. The revised Design & Access Statement appears to have addressed this however it was disappointing that this was not carried across the whole site. Originally the layout was proposed as being a grid pattern to reflect the industrial history of the site, however the new Urban Design Officer considered that a less formal layout would better reflect the housing developments to the west and north. Overall, it was considered that the developers had worked hard to address the Town Council’s concerns.
With regards to open space, the central area was now larger, and the north-eastern area now benefits from the removal of parking from the immediate environment and a brick wall within the hedgerow to reduce noise and air pollution from Howland Road.
On density, whilst the Town Council would welcome a higher density, it became clear at the meeting in July that the scheme, and the applicant, was constrained by the outline approval for 129 homes. As the District Council also supported this view, it was considered that the Town Council should not uphold this objection.
The applicant has expressed commitment to deliver rapid electric vehicle charging to 43% of the dwellings, which exceeds the requirements of the Local Plan and was a welcome significant gain. The applicant has also suggested that public art could reflect the industrial history of the site and adjoining former railway line and be provided off-site on the Phoenix Trail.
Overall, the NPCO felt that the Town Council had taken its objections as far as it could, and that the applicant had worked hard to address its concerns. It was noted that there were outstanding issues, which the Town Council did not originally comment on, such as biodiversity and drainage, that SODC were seeking to resolve.
A question was raised as to whether SODC would be able to prevent the conversion of garages? This was a matter for the County Council to comment on, however it was hoped that these applications would not be seen for some time as some of the parking provision was linked to the garages.
The electric vehicle chargers were welcome; however, it was noted that these were only attached to properties with driveways. The lack of a private driveway was a known barrier to obtaining an electric vehicle charger, so it was suggested that some of the charging points be positioned in the communal areas. The NPCO agreed that this was a valuable point to raise and would include it within the Town Council’s response.
- The Town Council supports planning application P20/S4801/RM. It was suggested that some of the electric vehicle charging points be positioned in the communal areas
16 1381 – P21/S0644/FUL – Pearces Yard, Aylesbury Road – Amendment No.1
Cllr Bretherton left the meeting during the discussion and voting of this item.
Ms. Jarvis reminded Members that this application had been considered by the Council in March 2021, where the Town Council objected to the scheme due to concerns regarding loss of employment and the impact on the heritage assets and conservation area. The applicants have sought to address the concerns raised by the consultees through the amended plans and additional documents. It was noted that there had been further comments from residents who remain concerned regarding the proposals. Ms Jarvis’ report outlined the amended plans which she had assessed and concluded that they made little difference to the concerns originally made by the Town Council.
The main document regarding employment does address the relevant policies within the Local Plan to an extent however the document does not confirm that any marketing was undertaken, as required under Thame Neighbourhood Plan Policy WS12, and takes a limited view of alternative site uses.
In terms of the impact on the surrounding listed buildings and conservation area, additional visualisations showing various viewpoints of the proposed building had been provided. These visualisations only showed the view in mid-summer when the trees were in full leaf. The current building is low key and barely perceptible, with an open feel to the area. It was considered that the design and scale of the proposed building would not relate well to the conservation area.
The amended flood risk assessment proposes that the building will now sit 150mm above existing ground level to address flooding concerns.
Overall, it was considered that the amendments did not address the Town Council’s concerns and the benefits were not seen to outweigh the harms. Members added that there was a known need locally for offices and light industrial / workshop space for small companies to establish themselves, however the applicant had dismissed this as an option for the site, citing that there would be ‘no meaningful market’.
- The Town Council maintains its objection to planning application P21/S0644/FUL on the grounds that: the development fails to conserve and enhance the character and appearance of the conservation area and setting of a number of listed buildings and the harm is not considered to be outweighed by the public benefits. Furthermore, the loss of the employment land has not been fully justified.
17 Town Fairs
The Acting Town Clerk advised that the Town Council had had very positive negotiations with the Showmen’s Guild. The only change to the agreement was to reduce the maximum access requirement from 1.5 metres to 1.2 metres. The agreement, which the Showmen’s Guild have signed, would be for one year. No fee had been paid last year as the Fair was unable to go ahead and, whilst a fee increase was due, the Town Council had agreed with the Showmen’s Guild to keep the fee the same as in 2018 to support the Guild following the impact of Covid-19. The Town Council would not be subsidising the Guild by keeping the fee the same this year.
The September Fair will be the first major event in the town since Covid-19 hit in March 2020 and as such there would be a meeting with the District’s Safety Advisory Group (SAG) to identify any necessary Covid-19 measures for the event. Officers had prepared a Risk Assessment and Event Safety Management Plan, and the Guild had offered to have a QR code if required by the SAG. It was noted that social distancing would not be possible.
- The signing of the September and October Fairs Agreement 2021 be authorised.
18 Public Art
The report was noted. The project was currently at Phase 2 with the recently commissioned artist reviewing the locations for the public art. The Acting Town Clerk was seeking permission to drawdown the relevant S106 funding so that Phase 3 could commence in September. The Acting Town Clerk advised that the District’s S106 Officer had advised earlier in the day that they would not be able to release the funding until planning permission had been granted, which meant the project may have to be forward-funded by the Town Council.
Cllr Bretherton advised that this was not raised when the S106 agreement was approved at the District Council but would speak to the Officers tomorrow and do what he could. The NPCO added that he would investigate whether the public art installations would fall under Permitted Development.
- The Town Council approves the signing of relevant legal agreements by the Acting Town Clerk to allow the drawdown of this funding so that work can commence in September 2021.
19 Cut & Collect Mower
The Asset Manager reminded Members that earlier in the year, it was agreed that the Town Council would cultivate greener / wildflower meadow areas on identified sites and so far, there had been a good response. The areas required twice yearly cutting however the Town Council did not have a mower with a cut and collect facility. In April, the Town Council had a demonstration of the Iseki model, which Chesham Town Council have leased for 4 years having originally also tested the John Deere and Kubota models. The Asset Manager had prepared a spreadsheet which outlined the cost comparison for leasing and purchasing the three models. It was noted that the residual value was dependent on the usage and condition of the mower. It was also noted that Chesham Town Council had only exceeded their usage once in four years and the charge was waived. The Community, Leisure & Recreation Committee had also requested that the Asset Manager investigate options to hire the machine from a local company. Whilst that company do have a cut and collect mower, it could not be driven on roads so it would have to be transported to the sites and therefore was not a viable option for the Town Council to consider.
Members considered the advantages and disadvantages of hiring or purchasing the mower. It was possible that the mower could serve the Town Council well beyond the 4-year contract hire, the mower could be sold on the open market and the cost for purchasing the mower outright offered a relatively large saving compared to hiring, however it was noted that the residual value was dependent on the usage and not guaranteed. Servicing for the mower would likely increase after 4 years. A contract hire would give the Town Council a budgeted cost over 4 years and a guaranteed value. Members were reminded that there was not a budget for this mower, so it would have to be funded through reserves if purchased. Whilst the wilding areas would only need cutting twice a year, the mower would enable further flexibility of work schedules, with each member of the Maintenance Team having access to a ride on mower at any given time. The mower would also be used for grass cutting in the parks, the new burial site when it opens and leaf collection, although it was noted that the Town Council would need to be mindful of usage restrictions.
Overall, it was felt that leasing would give the Town Council the option to see how the project goes and decide in 4 years whether to purchase the mower, renew the lease or return it.
- The Town Council lease an Iseki SXG 326+ ride on cut and collect mower for a period of 48 months, initially funded from the Localism Fund and included in budgets from 2022-23.
20 Staffing Matters
With regards to the Town Clerk recruitment, Cllr Cowell reported that out of the 9 applications, four candidates had been chosen for interviews on Thursday. Following the interviews, two would be shortlisted for second interviews and a buffet lunch with Members and Officers on Friday. Details of the buffet lunch would follow tomorrow by email. The candidates had a mixture of clerking experience, as well as in people management and delivering community projects.
It was noted that the Town Hall will be closed for one afternoon for staff team building, with the date to be confirmed.
- The Personnel committee act as the working group for selection and interview of the Town Clerk.
21 Improving Access to the Town Centre
Cllr Austin reported that he and the Acting Town Clerk had had a positive meeting with the County Highways Officer, who was understanding of the project aims. On a trial basis, two routes into the Town Centre had been surveyed and 15 obstacles had been identified. The difficulty was that these were managed by different departments / authorities, which would require an integrated approach in order to prioritise the work required, although a lot of issues were a result of people neglecting their hedges. Cllr Austin advised that the focus was just on East Thame to start with.
The Chairman thanked Cllr Austin for his work and was looking forward to hearing more in due course.
22 Civic Regalia
Cllr Champken-Woods had made a request to the Acting Town Clerk that a velvet collar be added to the Deputy Mayor’s chain, similar to the one on the Mayor’s chain, to make the chain more comfortable to wear.
- A velvet collar be added to the Deputy Mayor’s chain.
The NPCO requested that the Town Council’s Local Plan Consultation Team review the Oxfordshire Infrastructure Strategy, Oxfordshire Plan 2050 (Regulation 18 Part 2) and Oxford-Cambridge Arc Spatial Framework consultations, so that the Town Council can respond on behalf of the community. The NPCO would provide support in collating and submitting the responses.
24 1420 – P21/S1632/RM – Land North of Rycote Lane Near Thame – Amendments No.1 and No.2
It was noted that having reviewed the amendments, Officers consider that they would not alter the Town Council’s comments made on 22 June 2021.
The meeting concluded at 8:25pm.
Chairman, 16 November 2021