18 January 2022 – Minutes
THAME TOWN COUNCIL
Minutes of the Meeting of Thame Town Council held on 18 January 2022 at 6:30pm in the Upper Chamber, Town Hall, Thame.
Cllrs B Austin, D Bretherton, P Cowell (Town Mayor), M Deacock, A Dite, D Dodds, M Dyer, L Emery, H Fickling, K Gregory, C Jones, A Midwinter, H Richards, J Tipping and T Wyse
M Sturdy, Town Clerk
K Slater, Responsible Financial Officer
C Pinnells, Community Services Manager
L Fuller, Committee Services Officer
A. Before the meeting started, the Chairman expressed his thanks to the Community Services Manager and Responsible Financial Officer (RFO) for managing the Town Council over the last year or so as Acting Town Clerk and Acting RFO respectively. They had done a brilliant job despite some difficult situations and had carried the Council very well. Members gave the Officers a round of applause.
1 Apologies for Absence
Apologies were received from Cllr Champken-Woods (personal).
2 Declarations of Interest and Dispensations
Cllr Emery declared an interest in Item 13 as a volunteer with Thame Youth Projects. This was not a pecuniary interest and did not preclude Cllr Emery from debating or voting on this item.
3 Civic Announcements
The Mayor’s Civic Attendances were noted.
4 Public Participation and Public Questions
Cllrs Bretherton and Richards entered the meeting during this item.
There were no applications to address the Council.
There were no questions put to the Council.
5 Members Questions (under Standing Order 11)
Cllr Austin asked: “In the absence of a published and detailed project plan timetable, could the Mayor inform the Council at which stages, and when, will the TNP2 proposals and developments be placed in front of the Full Council for discussion and subsequent confirmation? This question is in the context of the only decision placed before the Full Council since the appointment of the consultants was that taken on 16th November relating to the second consultation and the employment site addition.”
Cllr Austin advised that he was not expecting a reply at the meeting, but this had been concerning him for a while. In agreement with the Town Clerk, the Chairman advised that an update and reply would be provided within a week.
6 Budget and Precept for 2022-2023
Members were asked to consider and approve the budget for 2022-2023 and agree the precept for 2022-2023. The report, detailed budget and budget summary were noted. Following detailed discussions by the Budget Working Group and via email, it was agreed that a 3.5% increase was the optimum increase for the Town Council’s precept. This equates to £3.25 per week for a Band D household and an increase of £5.74 a year. The budget for 2022-23 presented an increase in expenditure of £37,436 from last year. The Town Council had experienced further revenue and income losses over the last year as a result of Coronavirus.
A question was raised to the Christmas Lights which appeared to be a significant figure within the budget lines. The Community Services Manager advised that the Town Council was 3 years into a five-year contract for the Christmas Lights, which was split into £19,000 payments each year. The contract would be presented back to Council when it was due for renewal.
- The 2022-23 budget be approved.
- £844,704 be raised for the precept for 2022-23.
The Minutes of the Committee Meeting held on 23 November 2021 were confirmed as a correct record, and were signed by the Chairman.
8 Planning & Environment Committee
The minutes of the meetings held on 30 November 2021, 21 December 2021 and 11 January 2022 were noted.
9 Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Committee
The minutes of the meeting held on 21 December 2021 were noted.
10 Transport Plan Working Group (TPWG)
The position of Chair of the TPWG had been vacant since November 2021. It was proposed and seconded that Cllr Richards be considered for Chair of the TPWG. There being no other nominations it was:
- Cllr Richards be appointed as Chair of the Transport Plan Working Group.
11 Annual Town Meeting Plan
The Town Clerk advised that since the report had been published, she had met with the Mayor and Deputy Mayor who suggested that the Annual Town Meeting could be a good opportunity to begin the process of creating a strategy for Thame and the Town Council. A provisional schedule for the meeting would be approval of the previous meeting’s minutes, a 5-minute update on Thame Neighbourhood Plan 2, followed by an open discussion on a strategy for Thame which would include sticky notes and display panels for people to add their ideas to under high-level headings such as the environment, community, and planning. The Town Council would then publish the common themes.
With regards to the strategy idea, it was clarified that this would be a strategic plan for Thame, which would focus on broader topics than housing such as wellbeing and other projects that the Town Council could help deliver. A strategy is needed to give a mission statement on how the council operates and what it delivers, so that it can work with a clear direction and less reactively. Concern was raised about running this alongside the Neighbourhood Plan consultation, and it was noted that there are many other public surveys taking place including at Elms Park, Thame Museum, and the upcoming Transport Survey. Concern was also raised about managing expectations, and that the focus needed to be on the Neighbourhood Plan currently.
Members felt that a review of the first Thame Neighbourhood Plan (TNP1) was due, as there was a feeling among some electors that there was little point in engaging with the Neighbourhood Plan review as TNP1 was not followed and they have not benefited from it. The Annual Town Meeting could present an opportunity to highlight the successes and failures of TNP1, which would hopefully give people confidence to engage with TNP2 and support it at referendum. There had been failures, but TNP1 had also protected and enhanced Thame. To ensure the community is well-informed, it was suggested that the outcome of the Annual Town Meeting be publish after the meeting too.
Members were reminded that the Annual Town Meeting is a meeting for the people of Thame, and not a meeting of the council. It is important that the electors have an opportunity to ask questions, and that the meeting has a structure with timings.
Within the Officer report, it had been suggested that Thame Green Living and Thame Youth Projects give a presentation as these had been planned for the 2020 and 2021 Annual Town Meetings which did not happen due to Covid-19. Members felt that they should have an opportunity to give a short presentation in addition to a TNP1 review.
- In addition to a public open forum, the Annual Town Meeting provide an opportunity to review the successes and failures of the first Thame Neighbourhood Plan, and an update from Thame Green Living and Thame Youth Projects. Officers will work on a schedule for the meeting to keep timings on track.
12 Community Governance Review
The report was noted. The Town Council had formed a working group which met in December 2021 to consider the Town Council’s response to the District’s Community Governance Review, given the consultation closing date of 21 January 2022.
The Committee Services Officer advised that the working group had unanimously made two recommendations to Full Council which related to the repositioning of the electoral ward boundary and the repositioning of the parish boundary. It was recommended that the ward boundary be repositioned as it was felt that due to residential development in the South of Thame in recent years, the South ward had become disproportionately large, and this needed to be redressed. It was suggested that the boundary line be taken west along Oxford Road, rather than north/east along Priest End, so that the properties on the Thame Meadows development would be included in the North Ward. The other recommendation was to move the parish boundary to incorporate existing and proposed employment land west of Thame on Rycote Lane which currently fell under the Great Haseley Parish. It was felt this land served and was serviced by Thame and therefore it was felt suitable that Thame had influence over any development here, as well as being able to benefit from possible developer contributions to help manage the impact of the development on Thame’s infrastructure. It was suggested that the boundary be extended westwards to incorporate this land and head northwards to North Weston. Maps showing the proposed boundary changes were included within the report.
- The North / South ward boundary be repositioned so that the boundary line runs along Oxford Road. Properties north of Oxford Road (including Thame Meadows estate) would be included in the North Ward.
- The Thame Parish boundary be extended westwards up to North Weston (with a suggested boundary extending west along Rycote Lane, heading north along the watercourse and Weston Lane / Track and east from the junction of the A418).
13 Community Youth Centre Working Group
The Community Services Manager thanked the amazing team who had worked together to undertake the tender process to find an architect. A specification had been developed in line with the Town Council’s Financial Regulations. Four companies were approached, of which two could not be considered until the design stage. Company B were the preferred choice of the Community Youth Centre Working Group (CYCWG). The cost was based on a percentage fee to undertake architectural and contract administration services, but this did not include the cost of surveys. Once planning permission is secured, it will be possible to apply for grant funding, which will be required to deliver this project.
In the meantime, funding of £40,000 from the Town Council is required to cover the costs of the architect and associated surveys. In discussion with the District Council, it was suggested that this money be drawn down from the Town Council’s Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) reserves. This was a major and much-needed project for the town, and it was hoped that Members would support the recommendations in the report to appoint Company B as the architect and authorize up to £40,000 to be released from CIL reserves.
Members noted that there had been some resistance from local residents with regards to a building on this site, due to concerns over antisocial behaviour although it was noted that there had recently been an improvement due to community police activity in the area. A question was also raised as to whether there would be parking provided? The Community Services Manager advised that when the project reached the design phase there would be a consultation and throughout the process a lot of issues would be resolved, and the detail refined. It was possible that a wider redesign of Southern Road Recreation Ground may be required. A partnership agreement would be created as per other community projects to ensure the Town Council remains involved throughout and the Council would receive the designs before they were submitted as a planning application.
A question was raised with regards to a ballpark figure for the project cost, and how this would be funded? The Community Services Manager advised that it was likely to be around £1.25million, but this would provide a centre for the community and youth. There was around £340,000 in S106 and the remainder would largely need to be funded from grants.
Another question was raised as to whether the scouts and guides had been involved? The Chairman advised that the CYCWG have had and will continue to have discussions with the scouts and guides throughout the process as key stakeholders.
- Company B be appointed as the Architect for the new Community Youth Centre building at Southern Road Recreation Ground.
- Funding of up to £40,000 is released from CIL monies for this project.
14 Elms Park Recreation Ground
The RFO explained that last year John Hampden School had approached the Town Council to request that the annual fee of £800 for use of Elms Park Recreation Ground be reduced as the school was using the field less than previously. Members were reminded that the Policy & Resources Committee had previously agreed to reduce the annual fee to £15, however since then the school had notified the Town Council that they intend to use the field 8 times per school year. The deed of variation, as presented for sealing, had been amended to reflect this and it had been agreed with the school that the annual charge be £100. The Town Council would invoice the school on behalf of Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) and the school would notify the Council of the dates to assist the Maintenance Team.
- The Council authorise the sealing of the Deed of Variation between Thame Town Council and Oxfordshire County Council relating to Elms Park Recreation Ground.
15 Thame Shed
The report from the Thame Shed committee was noted. The report was a requirement under the Council’s Grant Policy as the grant award exceeded £2,000. Cllr Wyse added that the electrics were being installed in the shed next week. Frustratingly, the shed still contained items from the Agricultural Association which could not be moved until the two containers containing Towersey Festival items were emptied.
16 Wellington Street Pedestrian Crossing
Members were wholly supportive of the pedestrian crossing on Wellington Street, although it was noted that it would result in the loss of six on-street parking spaces.
A question was raised as to whether there was any update on the request for a pedestrian crossing on Oxford Road? The Community Services Manager advised that the Town Council had received the petition for this last year, but the County Council had advised that the Town Council would need to fund this, but it was possible that there were unspent S106 monies relating to the Renaissance Development on Oxford Road. It was also noted that there had been a request for a crossing on the bypass. Cllr Gregory agreed to look into possible funding options at OCC for the pedestrian crossing on Oxford Road.
- The Council supports the pedestrian crossing on Wellington Street.
17 Committee / Working Group Structure Review
It was noted that the Committee / Working Group Structure Review is underway but will not be completed within the nine months as agreed by Council in May 2021. It is suggested that the review be completed in time for any changes to be agreed by Full Council on or before the Annual Meeting on 17 May 2022.
18 Exclusion of the Press and 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.
19 Democratic Process
Cllr Dyer provided Members with a verbal and written update on matters following the previous report to Full Council on 23 November 2021. The Town Council had obtained further legal advice on the matter, which now related to failings in a democratic process in the withholding of emails under a Freedom of Information request made by a local resident. The legal advice advised that the next step would be a referral to the Local Government Ombudsman (LGO). Whilst it was not possible for the Town Council to make that referral, it could support a Councillor, resident, or group of residents in doing so. Cllr Dyer offered to act as a liaison between the resident and the Town Council, as to minimise impact on Officers. There was no cost in making a referral to the LGO.
Members considered the options and possible outcomes, and it was felt that the Town Council should proceed with supporting a referral to the Local Government Ombudsman.
- Thame Town Council agree to afford every possible assistance to any Councillor, resident, or group thereof in pursuance of a referral to the Local Government Ombudsman relating to the failings of a democratic process.
The meeting concluded at 7:57pm.
Chairman, 1 March 2022