Not as bad as Saffron Walden

First of all, I need to quash the rumours that I have resigned. The town clerk in another North Essex town, Saffron Walden, might have thrown in the towel, but I have no intention of quitting here in Chipping Bonhunt. We town clerks must always remember that we are servants of our Council, and I’ve found over the years that being open and supportive of our councillors has always provided the foundation for a good working relationship.

We had a very successful Mayor-making without our new Mayor last Saturday. Let’s be clear: Councillor Dobbs had no idea she would be taking up this office until after the recent elections. Cancelling a long-planned family holiday was not an option and I hope the backbiting will now stop.

Tobias Gibson

A couple of firsts

A couple of firsts for us here on Chipping Bonhunt Town Council.

For the first time we have a “non party” party with a majority on the council. It was all change last week with the Residents’ party sweeping the other politicians to one side both for the town seats on the District Council and here on the Town Council.

Our second first, as it were, is that for the first time we’re going to have a mayor-making without the Mayor! She’s off enjoying the sun while we’re installing her as the town’s first citizen. Could this be the pattern for the new look Town Council?

We live, as they say, in interesting times!

An Inspector Called

The planning inspector called, but what did he say?

There has been much heated debate about the draft Local Plan that cost our  District Council £2 million to prepare and which was thrown out by the Planning Inspector after the Public Inquiry last year.

In summary, the Inspector found that:

  • The plan was unsound because he had concerns about the “objectively assessed need” (“OAN”) and the key policy to build a substantial number of new homes at Finchwinter. The extent of the change needed meant he could not recommend major modifications to resolve the soundness issues
  • The scale of work needed by the District Council would take longer than 6 months and would result in a plan “fundamentally different” in character from the one submitted. Therefore suspending examination of the plan to allow alterations was not an option
  • The opportunity exists for the District Council to prepare a new plan that is complementary to plans prepared by neighbouring local authorities
  • There appeared to be widespread recognition that some form of  new settlement or new settlements may be an appropriate way to cater for future long-term growth in the District if these are of sufficient scale to achieve a sustainable critical mass. This would particularly be the case if towns with the character of Chipping Bonhunt are judged to have limits as to the amount they can grow sustainably and in an integrated way through successive expansion

The Inspector recognised that this was unwelcome news to the Council.  However, if he continued to examine the plan it would have the inevitable conclusion that he would not be able to recommend changes that would make the plan sound. The alternative was for the District Council to consider withdrawing the plan, which it did in January (having wasted a lot of our Council Tax!).

Tobias Gibson, Town Clerk

A right Royale affair

We put up a pretty good show from the Town Council at the recent planning appeal by Royale Homes over their proposed development in Welsted Road. It was a good team effort with the local residents’ group, and a very strong case was made as to why this development should be refused.

The reasons are clear: It’s on the wrong side of town; the new road offered by the developer will move the traffic jams, not eliminate them; and the new primary school on offer will arrive far too late to meet the growing local problem with school places.

Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, we were badly let down by the District Council who failed to defend the decision of their planning committee and seem intent on trying to make this development happen.

We won’t hear the outcome until June, after the elections. I suspect that will keep the District Council happy.

Tobias Gibson

Where have all the candidates gone?

Much to my surprise, it seems we have one of the lowest ever number of candidates standing for Chipping Bonhunt Town Council this May. Despite all the political debate and campaigning from the new residents group,  the parties have only managed to scrape together a meagre 28 candidates for the 16 places on the Council between them. That’s less than two candidates for each Council seat. I suspect some people will get elected who were promised they were just a “paper candidate” with no chance of winning!

It’s the same in other parts of Essex, with an identical situation in Saffron Walden. In Stansted Mountfichet it looks as though they won’t even be needing an election for the Parish Council.

It’s a shame when so few people seem to be interested in local affairs here in the town.

Easter greetings

On behalf of the Town Council and the Mayor, Cllr Stephen Hodgkiss, we wish everyone in Chipping Bonhunt a very happy Easter.

It’s going to be a busy few weeks ahead with the national and local elections, and we’ve only just finished dealing with the planning appeal by Royale Developments. More on that to follow.

Tobias Gibson

Kitchen sink drama

Kitchens and their sinks seem to be much in the news this week. First of all a national debate breaks out about how many kitchens Ed Miliband has in his house. It’s certainly more than one, but is it two or three?

Now David Cameron has allowed himself to be wrong-footed giving an interview in one of his kitchens (or is it his only one?), and has let slip that he doesn’t intend to stand for a third term of office.

Here in Chipping Bonhunt the drama isn’t taking place round the kitchen sink (although we do have a very nice one in the Town Hall). No, it’s all about the battle between the current Conservative administration and the new residents’ party, with the other political parties vying to make their mark as well. It will be fascinating to see what happens in the Council elections on Thursday 6th May, and I hope the electorate decide who to support for our government on more serious factors than the number of kitchens they have!

Not very Appealing

This week sees the appeal by one of the developers trying to build a major new estate on the east side of Chipping Bonhunt. The Town Council is fighting the appeal because we think the proposed housing would be in the wrong place. When the application went to the planning committee at the District Council, they refused permission. But now they’re not fighting the appeal. We think this is because they really want the development to go ahead. It was part of the District’s failed Local Plan which was rejected by a Planning Inspector earlier this year.

Clash of the Titans

As Town Clerk in Chipping Bonhunt I remain neutral politically and observe elections with caution. However, there have been some interesting developments with the District Council which affect villages not served by our Town Council, so I think I might allow myself a few comments.

Until the forthcoming elections in May, the current Leader of the District Council represents a ward within Chipping Bonhunt. The District’s policies have been very controversial in this ward, because it is where the District Council proposed to built a lot of new housing under the draft Local Plan that was recently comprehensively rejected by the Inspector at the Public Inquiry. Despite this, much of the housing has already been granted planning permission – a sort of fait accompli as it were.

Whether this or other factors led to the District Council Leader getting himself selected to stand for another ward, representing some of our town’s neighbouring villages,  we cannot be certain. However, some might think he had joined the “chicken run.” This is what politicians tend to do when they think they can’t get re-elected for the area they currently represent: they try to stand for somewhere they think is a safer bet.

However, I read in the ever excellent Chipping Bonhunt Recorder that one of the leading figures from the local residents’ group is now going to stand in the same ward. It should make for a very interesting election. What we might call a clash of the titans!

Mind Blanking

I could only feel sympathy for the leader of the Green Party when she struggled to answer questions on the radio this morning about her party’s housing policies. She called it a ‘mind blank,’ as she failed to explain the costs and seemed to think you could build a house for £60,000.

We’re used to a bit of ‘mind blanking’ here in Chipping Bonhunt from some of our District Councillors, particularly when it comes to explaining how the local infrastructure will be provided for all the new housing they plan for the town.

Roads, doctors, schools. We need more than a ‘mind blank’ to provide the answers local people quite rightly demand.

The undiscovered jewel of North Essex