The following is an editorialised version of the audio recording I made at Monday evenings Annual Parish Assembly.
Parish Council Chairman, Eric Pelter, accompanied by fellow Councillors Barbara Atkinson and Stuart Close, ably assisted by Clerk to the Council, Gillian Hodgson, welcomed five parishioners to the Annual Parish Assembly.
He commented that in the previous twelve years the meetings had been attended by one, then two, and now five parishioners.
The Chairman said that these Assemblies were held before the AGM of the Parish Council, which this year would be at 7:00pm on Monday 15 May and will also be open to the public, followed by the first PC meeting of the year.
He proposed to report on what has happened during the year. This would be followed by an open discussion of Parish affairs the result could be carried forward to the next PC meeting.
Point of Order: At this juncture parishioner Graham Williams raised two points of order. The first was regarding the name of the meeting, both Parish Meeting and Parish Assembly having been used at different times. The Chairman agreed that it was in fact the Parish Assembly. The second point was that there should be an Agenda posted for the Assembly. It was agreed that an Agenda hadn’t been published but the meeting proceeded without one.
Report on the year.
The Chairman thanked fellow Councillors and the Clerk for their support over the year. The Police reports have shown that crime has not risen in the area. Painting of the site railings and repair of the village sign were referred to. Donations had been made to The Royal British Legion, Wagtail Toddlers Playgroup, NW Air Ambulance and the districts Women’s Institute.
The Parish Precept was set for the year at £3,950, an increase of 10%, not specifically to purchase a SpID which was to be acquired through the Parish Champion Grant, but our application was refused.
Point of Order: Graham Williams raised a point of order in respect of this SpID. Graham stated that the Parish Champion does no give a grant for the purchase of a SpID he only gives a grant for the purchase of a sign indicating there is a SpID. The Chairman requested that the point of order waited until he had completed his annual report. He said that as the application had been refused we were to reapply for the next grant period.
The work of parishioners in collecting rubbish around the Parish was praised. Dog fouling continues to be a problem around the village and the public are encouraged to report any occurrences they witness.
In future there will be a period of fifteen minutes prior to the commencement of all PC meetings during which Parishioners can raise matters of interest, which will be discussed at the next PC meeting. This completed the Chairmans Annual Report to the Parish Assembly.
Open Meeting Section
Speed Indicating Devices: The Chairman threw the meeting open for discussions on matters of interest at which point Graham Williams referred back to his earlier Point of Order regarding SpID’s. His contention was that the PC Minutes indicated that the Council was to “consider” the purchase of a device and that decision has not yet been taken because of the lack of concrete information on levels of speed. The Chairmans report on the other hand suggests that the decision has in fact been taken.
A lengthy, and at times heated, discussion ensued on the question of evidence or its lack and as to whether SpID’s are effective in road layouts like that in Whittington. It became clear that it was the perception of speed in certain sections of Main Street, rather than the absolute level of speed, that was the major concern. A statement was made by Ian Atkinson that the police have said that vehicles are driving too fast. It was pointed out to Ian that this is not supported in Police reports to the PC. Ian referred to a child being involved in an accident. However no evidence was presented to say that speed was a factor in this particular case. Ian agreed that speed had not been considered to be a factor.
Graham Williams drew attention to the County Council traffic survey information, taken over a number of years that demonstrated the lack of any speeding events being recorded. John Keegan referred to the recent survey, carried out over a period of four weeks, between the Village Hall and The Old Post Office, in both North and South traffic flows. This data was published with the recent Planning Application for the Dragons Head and demonstrated the lack of speeds exceeding 30 mph.
Whilst the meeting did not reach a consensus on the need and value for SpID’s there appeared to be a general acceptance that what was needed was a village speed limit of 20 mph. Unfortunately the conditions required in order to introduce a 20 mph limit do not exist in the village. A fruitless discussion took place around the possibility of a 20 mph limit, if Whittington had a school. We aren’t going to have a school so the matter is moot.
Proposal: Graham Williams proposed that before the Parish Council embarks on spending our money they investigate the possibility of introducing a 20 mph speed limit. John Keegan said that he knew that within the last few years the PC have Minuted that they have been told this would not be granted. Graham believed that it was still worth writing to County once more. The Chairman agreed that the PC would do that.
Graham went on to repeat his observation that the Parish Champion does not fund SpID’s, only signs, and that the PC should establish the facts before they go any further. Chairman agreed that this could be done. Ian Atkinson pointed out that it was possible to have one on loan from County, as they are doing in Gressingham. Chairman said that County had promised Whittington one on loan. Duncan Foster questioned the wisdom of a SpID telling drivers that they were OK driving at 30 mph when we wanted them to drive at 20.
Proposal: Graham Williams proposed that no decision should be taken over the purchase of a SpID until the PC is able to prove that there is a need. The Chairman disagreed and suggested that as Graham was making the complaint the burden of proof was with him. Gerald Hodgson asked how much maintenance and insurance would cost each year, as he could see it getting stolen. He also pointed out that the one at Kellet has been out of service for many months. The Chairman suggested that the meeting had exhausted this subject and should move on. The meeting had lasted 20 minutes upto this point.
Village Play Area & Tennis Court: John Keegan said that he would like the PC to set up a joint committee comprising some Councillors and some members of the Parish, in order to investigate the precise legal status of the Children’s Play Area and Tennis Court to find out a). is there any money extant, b). should there be any money extant, c). who actually owns the land, d). what land do they own, e), is there a Trust deed, f). if there is, who are the Trustees. John said that he understood there have been some enquiries into this but none of those enquiries have been made public.
Chairmans Background Explanation: The Chairman described some of the background. The “Children’s Playgroup” was set up and run by a villager Sarah Brundell (now Littlejohn). The tennis court was built with donations from the village. Three quarter of the ground belongs to Ruth Mackereth, this was disputed by Gerald Hodgson who said she only owned half of it. When the Chairman questioned this Gerald said that the other half was donated, or bought from Geoff Mackereth. There was no overall agreement as to the precise ownership but it was thought that one third belonged to the Sports Club.
Graham Williams stated that a portion of the ground was bought by Whittington Youth and Sports Club Trust.
Intervention: At this point John Keegan intervened to say that he believed that disagreements of this nature between people who should know is what prompted his suggestion that a proper informed investigation should take place. He said that to his knowledge there had been no search of the Land Registry, which would be essential to reaching any meaningful outcome.
Graham Williams said that such an investigation should look into what happened to the funds that are said to exist. The Chairman said that he though this has nothing to do with the Parish Council. Gerald pointed out that it was a public amenity which the public donated towards. The Chairman said that it was “taken up” by the Youth & Sports Committee.
John Keegan said that he believed that it was in the interest of the Village that the course of action he is suggesting is put in place by the Parish Council, as the alternative is that a group of villagers do it off their own bat without the authorisation of the Parish Council.
The Chairman stated that it is a fact that the bulk of the land belongs to Ruth Mackereth. Graham Williams asked if the Chairman has seen the Title Deeds to prove that this is correct, and he admitted he had not because, he claimed that it was done by the shake of the hand and there were no Title Deeds. Graham stated that he has seen Title Deeds, to which the Chairman had no explanation. Gerald Hodgson said that Sarah Littlejohn’s father was a solicitor in Kirkby and possibly still had the records.
Dangerous Building: Duncan Foster drew attention to the derelict building on the land and pointed out that steps needed to be taken to declare it unsafe, and posted as such because there is a public highway passing there. The building apparently belongs to Ruth Mackereth. Gerald asked if a Public Meeting should be called to which the Mackareth’s were invited. The Chairman lacked enthusiasm for this but Gerald pointed out that they still had a responsibility to the village. Ian Atkinson was dismissive and said that they had no obligations. They owned the land, that’s it. John Keegan pointed out they only owned part of the land and that was useless without the part that was previously in the ownership of the Sports Club.
The meeting rambled off to cover matters like the pool table, Basketball Hoop, Spot on Theatre etc which have been provided but never used because of apathy in the village.
Repeat of Proposal: In the absence of the Chairman regaining control of the discussion John Keegan drew the meeting back to the subject in hand by repeating his proposal.
Admission to existence of £5,000 fund: Instead of responding the Chairman went on to explain that he has a problem that is nothing to do with this meeting but is to do with the Village Hall, of which he is also Chairman. He admitted that there was £5,000 left in the Club funds. He stated that Sarah Littlejohn donated it to the Village Hall on the understanding that it would handed over to any recognised Youth Club that was set up in the Village. The money is currently lodged in the Village Hall accounts.
John Keegan asked if, in the Village Hall Annual Accounts, which will be presented on the evening following this meeting, this money will be stated as being a totally separate liquid asset to which the Village Hall has no right of use? Barbara Atkinson, as Village Hall Treasurer and Eric Pelter as Village Hall Chairman, assured him that it would be. He was assured that its specific asset status would appear in the accounts. Barbara said that the actual cheque came from Ruth Mackereth, which raises the query as to why Sarah Littlejohn did not transfer the funds when the arrangement was entered into and, in the intervening period, were there any withdrawals from these funds.
Graham Williams repeated the request for assurance that the funds are definitely identified as belonging to a body other than the Village Hall. At this point the Chairman took umbrage suggesting that Graham was trying to turn things around and saying that the Chairman was going to take money out. Graham asked that it be minuted that he has said nothing at all suggesting such an event. All Graham wanted was a simple answer to the question “will the accounts contain a note saying that a sum of £5,000 in the accounts is held in trust for a future Youth Club?”. At the request of the Chairman, Barbara Atkinson, in her role as Treasurer of the Village Hall, responded – “yes, my accounts are up to date”.
Failure to make progress: With no commitment from the Chair agreeing to the proposal put forward by John Keegan, it having been proposed three times, John gave up and suggested to the Chairman that the proceeding moved on.
Proposal to limit the number of Councillors serving on the Village Hall: John Keegan proposed that the Parish Council revert to the 1994 Rules of Whittington Village Hall, which are still current and have not been amended. These call for the PC to appoint one Councillor to the Village Hall Management Committee rather than the present two. John pointed out that there are only five Councillors and three are needed for a quorum. When Village Hall matters are addressed at the moment two Councillors have to withdraw. If one more Councillor is absent for any reason the meeting is not quorate and Village Hall matters cannot be addressed. A simple risk analysis indicates that this is an unsatisfactory state of affairs, particularly as there is no need for it.
Ian Atkinson stated that the Charity Commission is more flexible than that. John pointed out that they are not. Ian went on to say that it was all nonsense and ridiculous and that all John did was to call people names and the only reason John did this was because he was had up for drunken driving and was a pain in the neck. Graham Williamson suggested that Ian was out of order and he objected to Ian’s language, to which Ian responded that he didn’t care, Graham could object as much as he liked.
Graham told Ian that there had to be clear rules, both for the Village Hall and the Parish Council. Without clear rules they risked falling foul of governing legislation.
The Chairman promised to put the matter to the Parish Council. He also advised that he would be standing down at the next election giving anyone who wishes to do so the opportunity to stand for office. This section of the meeting lasted 26 minutes.
Electronic Communication: Graham Williams referred to a decision taken by the PC fifteen months ago in which the concept of electronic communication was dismissed by the Chairman. Over the last twelve months various references have been minuted regarding this issue and a letter was sent out explaining that the Parish Council was now totally supportive. Graham asked what progress has been made. The Chairman passed the question over to the Clerk who reported that work was in hand for a Parish Council Website. Graham said that a website was not electronic communications. The Parish Council has discussed using email to maintain contact with residents and he asked what the current status of this suggestion was. What about collecting peoples email addresses for two way communications. Gillian said that there was a village network in Arkholme but it was not part of the Village Hall or the PC.
Graham said that in May of last year the implication was that the PC in Whittington was to set such a system up. On behalf of the PC the Clerk advised that nobody had come forward to do that. Following a question from Graham as to if anyone had been asked to, a discussion ensued on the need for such things. Ian Atkinson stated that there was no need, nobody would turn up they would just sit at home. John Keegan regretted that Ian did not understand that with electronic communications people can sit at home and still participate. Ian didn’t see the point of it all that’s why nobody turns up for anything. Nobody turns up for Coffee mornings.
No conclusion having been arrived at the Chairman asked if there were any further matters.
Duncan Fosters report on bus services: Duncan reported good news and progress in local transport. Specifically he referred to the 8:30 bus every morning to Kirkby Lonsdale, six days a week, and not just school days. This is by Stagecoach in term time and Kirkby Coach Hire at all other times (including the Saturday service). Coming back KLC are running a bus at 17:50 Monday to Saturday through Whittington.
We still have no way of getting into Kirkby after 8:30 in the morning. Duncan thinks that now Susie Charles Party are in control of the County Council we may have a chance of getting more funding. What he wants to do is to encourage Stagecoach to redirect their 13:15 bus (Lancaster to Kirkby) through Whittington giving people the opportunity of going to Kirkby in the early afternoon.
The Chairman asked what Duncan would like the PC to do. If the Conservatives are unwilling to provide some support then Duncan would like the three Parish Councils this side of the river to see if there are joint funds available to cover the additional costs of this bus running the three extra miles down this side, rather than through Melling as it currently does.
Additional opportunities were also discussed, including Carnforth, but Duncan emphasised that he was concentrating on the least cost options at this point in time. Duncan will be attending the Lancaster Bus User Group meeting on Thursday of this week to put forward these suggestions to the Stagecoach Manager who will be attending the meeting.
Duncan also mentioned that he and John Keegan would be appearing in the Guardian (not the Lancaster Guardian) this week, following filming carried out at the Village Hall recently. This will be on the Guardian website, and a lengthy article is planned for the hard copy edition a little later.
After this eleven minute report from Duncan about the bus situation the Chairman closed the meeting, which had lasted a little less than one hour in total.