30 March 2021 – Minutes
THAME TOWN COUNCIL
Minutes of the Meeting of Thame Town Council held on 30 March 2021 at 6:30pm by Zoom Conference Call.
Cllrs B Austin, D Bretherton, N Champken-Woods, P Cowell (Deputy Mayor), A Dite, D Dodds, M Dyer, L Emery, K Gregory, C Jones, A Midwinter (Town Mayor), J Tipping and T Wyse
C Pinnells, Acting Town Clerk
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) and Fickling (council business).
All Members who were present were able to be seen and be heard.
The Chairman acknowledged the resignation of Sonja Francis from Thame Town Council after the last council meeting. It was noted a by-election had been called by 16 residents of the Thame North Ward and would take place on 6 May 2021, alongside the County Council and Police & Crime Commissioner elections. Ms Francis had represented her constituents extremely well and worked hard for the Council as Transport Representative. The Chairman wished her a long and happy retirement.
Cllrs Champken-Woods and Gregory entered the meeting during this item.
2 Declarations of Interest and Dispensations
There were no declarations of interest or dispensations.
It was noted that, in relation to Item 5, Cllr Gregory and Cllr Bretherton as District Councillors on this Full Council will make their comments and decisions based upon information available at the time of the meeting. It is accepted that District Councillors may come to a different decision in the light of more information being made available at District Planning Committee Meetings.
3 Civic Announcements
The Mayor reported that the High Sheriff of Oxfordshire had visited Thame last week to present a High Sheriff Award to the Thame Community Larder. The award recognises those who help others in their community.
The Mayor advised that she had led a minute’s silence for the National Day of Reflection on 23 March 2021. In relation to this, the Mayor advised that a silhouette of a healthcare worker had been placed in the Memorial Gardens to acknowledge the NHS and forces for their work during the Covid-19 pandemic and to remember those who had lost their lives.
4 Public Participation and Public Questions
There were no applications to address the Council.
There were no public questions put to the Council.
5 1381 – P21/S0644/FUL – Pearces Yard, Aylesbury Road
The Chairman introduced Ms Philippa Jarvis of Jarvis Planning who had prepared the report to assist with Officer workloads. The site was an important site on the approach to the Town Centre and in the context of the Conservation Area and setting of St Mary’s Church and Cricket Ground. The site is currently occupied by a range of buildings, including some listed buildings on the entrance. The main building for redevelopment occupies most of the site and is utilitarian. Wynnstay Agricultural currently occupy the building.
The proposal is for a 70-bed care home and will provide dementia care, communal spaces, and facilities. The proposed building will be part-two, part-three storey with a courtyard layout, brick elevations and central flat crown roof with pitched edges. The proposed building will have a similar footprint to the existing building and will utilise the same access from Aylesbury Road. Parking is proposed at the eastern and northern sides of the site, to give impression of backland development.
Ms Jarvis advised that the proposal raised a number of issues. Firstly, the proposal is contrary to policies in the Thame Neighbourhood Plan (TNP) and Local Plan that seek to protect employment sites. The applicant has not marketed the site for at least a year as required, contrary to TNP policy WS12, and has not demonstrated what other employment uses the site could be used for. The other key issue is the effect on the neighbouring listed buildings and conservation area. The site is a unique part of the town with a rural character. It was considered that the applicant had underplayed the impact of the development and the view from the Churchyard has not been assessed. The existing building is functional but does not have a presence on local views. The design and size of the proposed building is inappropriate for the site. Other issues included the flood risk and parking, as set out in the report, however the main objections related to the loss of employment land and impact on the site’s heritage assets.
A question was raised with regards to a likely increase in the number of employees? Ms Jarvis advised that policies seek to protect a particular type of employment, although the applicant has argued that the increase in the number of employees is positive.
With regards to the change of use to C2, Ms Jarvis confirmed that most of the site was Class B8 (in its own right) and the remained of the site was Class E.
Ms Jarvis advised that she was not aware that local GP surgeries had been consulted and noted that the proposed catchment area was 6 miles from Thame.
A question was raised with regards to demonstrating the need for the care home? Ms Jarvis advised that the applicant had undertaken their own needs assessment which had included proposals at the DAF site and Kingsey Road Health Campus site, but had not included the proposal at The Elms, which appeared to be a significant omission. Furthermore, the needs assessment did not include care home provision in nearby towns such as Aylesbury and Princes Risborough either.
Members noted that dementia was a growing problem in the UK but often only affects one person in a couple with the other person staying at home, and therefore it was spurious for the applicant to state that the proposal would increase the number of houses locally. The matter of loss of employment land was a fundamental part of the TNP, and the applicant had failed to market the site and demonstrate it could not be suitable for other uses. Members also expressed concerns regarding the design, scale of the development, and the impact on neighbouring amenity and the floodplain.
- Thame Town Council objects to the planning application 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; the harm to heritage assets is not considered to be outweighed by the public benefits. In addition, the proposal results in the loss of employment land which has not been demonstrated to be justified.
6 Members Questions (under Standing Order 11)
Cllr Dite raised three questions. Firstly, does the Town Council have a roadmap for returning to face-to-face meetings? Secondly, will Mayoral elections be taking place this year? Thirdly, what is the current situation with the Town Clerk position?
In response to the first question, the Acting Town Clerk advised that the Government had been short-sighted in their recent decision to not extend the regulations that permit virtual council meetings beyond 7 May 2021. There was a lot of discontent in the sector with this decision and a legal challenge was being pursued. Officers were investigating options for alternative venues and preparing risk assessments for face-to-face meetings to return in line with Covid-19 guidance. It was recognised that not all Members and Officers will have had their Covid-19 vaccinations by 7 May 2021. There were three options – delegate all decisions to the Acting Town Clerk; limit Council meetings to quorate attendance only; or prevent the public from attending in person. These options would be undemocratic and presented difficulties. Once a solution has been investigated further information will be provided to Councillors.
With regards to the Mayoral elections, the Chairman advised that the Annual Meeting would be taking place. Given the County Council elections, the Acting Town Clerk would double-check whether the Mayor Designate appointment would be able to take place at the April Council meeting.
Cllr Cowell advised, in response to the Acting Town Clerk position question, that in the first two weeks of April, the consultants would be data-gathering on the current staff structure and roles. A full report containing recommendations would be provided by the fourth week of April. Based on their recommendations, a meeting would be held in mid-May on how the Town Council moves forward. It was hoped that an advert, created with the consultants, for the Town Clerk position would be published by the end of May. It was expected that interviews would be held in June, an offer made in July, and – depending on the candidate’s situation – for the new Town Clerk to be in post by September.
The minutes of the meeting held on 2 March 2021 were approved.
8 Appointment of Thame Neighbourhood Plan Consultants
At the previous Council meeting it was resolved that the TNP2 consultant would be chosen through an informal meeting with Members and Officers and formally ratified at the next Council meeting.
The Neighbourhood Plan Continuity Officer advised that the informal meeting had taken place on 8 March 2021, where it was agreed that the scoring criteria was acceptable and, based on this, Company C was chosen. The chosen company have accepted the role and a positive inception meeting was held yesterday. Officers were reviewing the Terms and Conditions and were hoping to adopt the contracts shortly.
- The appointment of Company C as the consultants for the Thame Neighbourhood Plan be formally ratified.
The meeting concluded at 7:09pm.
Chairman, 27 April 2021