Neston Town Council Planning & Environment Meeting February 2014
|Author: The Silent Member of the Public||Published: 19th February 2014 08:55|
An informal report of the most recent meeting of Neston Town Council's Planning & Environment Committee, by The Silent Member of the Public.
As a Neston resident who normally keeps abreast of Town Council matters quietly via meeting minutes (and AboutMyArea), I considered myself fairly well informed. Then I started wondering; how much do the public miss by not attending meetings in person?
At two recent "Extraordinary" meetings at the Town Hall, crowds turned out in force over the issue of Cuckoo Lane, but I didn't suppose those were typical. So, last week, with concessions from CWaC having calmed the furore a little, but many questions raised, and still unanswered, about the Town Council's role, this public minded citizen decided to trot along to a "normal" Town Council committee meeting, to see how business was conducted.
The Planning and Environment Committee Meeting on Feb 11th fielded a core membership newly replenished to its normal strength of five members, and skipped through the opening formalities with just one little noteworthy item; the newest councillor, a member of the Wirral Footpaths and Open Spaces Preservation Society, made a Declaration of Interest, having spoken against a certain "improvement" scheme at the Town Hall on 10th Jan. Slight pause. Moving swiftly on...
The next item on the agenda was to consider approval and signing of the minutes of the P&E meetings of 9th and 17th Jan. The minutes for 9th, being a full day before the Extraordinary Full Council meeting, made no mention at all of the hot topic of the moment, but it had been the sole item on the agenda at the following week's meeting. The new councillor had noticed a reference in the minutes of the 17th, quoting a fellow P&E member's comment that many of the 15,000 residents in Neston "will support the scheme", and asked what evidence there was for this. It was explained to the new councillor, however, that the purpose of this agenda item was to approve the accuracy of the minutes themselves, not to discuss the accuracy of comments made at the meetings, and thus, the question had to remain unanswered.
And so to the next item, which was about...guess what? Specifically, the agenda referred to a letter that the Town Council had received from CwaC, dated 3rd Feb, outlining what CwaC intended to do next about the subject everyone was talking about. The P&E members had all been given copies of the letter, so there was no need to discuss the contents. A brief mention was made of a question that had arisen regarding change of designation of the lane from its current bridleway status, but as a representative of CWaC had apparently stated that there were "no plans" to do this, nothing more needed to be said. In fact, all that was required in regard to the matter was to send a letter acknowledging the letter. At this point, a suggestion was made which instigated consideration of whether they might venture a step further and add a sentence or two to convey to CWaC just how much they welcomed CWaC's positive response, and to express how they hoped that CWaC would continue to talk to the public about the issue. Before agreeing the wording however, a vote would be necessary, which then called into question whether the new councillor would be allowed to vote, due to the aforementioned Declaration of Interest. At this point, I do declare, I was rapidly losing interest.
Following a brief Clerk's report, I perked up again at the prospect of the next agenda item; the Marsh Working Group. After years of suffering the loathsome critters - the mozzies, not the MWG - I'd hoped there might be some specific information, not just on what the group were doing, but how successful their activities had been in reducing the mosquito menace. I was particularly interested in the latter because although the previous minutes congratulate the MWG warmly on their hard work, I'd been unable to find any details about the mosquito reduction, despite trawling through many P&E committee minutes. If I'd read the agenda closely enough, I'd have seen that this item was only intended to advise that the next MWG meeting wouldn't be until the spring and I would have avoided disappointment. It was noted though, that the gullies on the marsh now needed to be dredged again following the high tides, so the MWG needed to meet sooner rather than later.
Next up, a proposal to plant trees along Liverpool Road in order to make that approach into Neston more visually attractive. Some committee members had clearly learned lessons from recent experience, and cautioned that while it seemed like a very good idea, it should not be assumed that local residents would necessarily want trees planted outside their homes. Formal consultation with the public should take place first. Another committee member - from the Ness Ward - then suggested that the trees might be supplied from Ness gardens (though it wasn't mentioned whether Ness Gardens had asked for, or supported the proposal).
This was followed by a review of four planning applications that had been submitted to CWaC, and it was interesting to hear what the committee took into consideration in forming its opinions. Some aspects were predictable, but who would have guessed that the whiteneness of exterior décor might be raised? At one point, I thought I had caught mention of the merits, (or lack thereof), of a particular architect, but the speaker, suddenly remembering that I was in the room, made haste to turn to me and tell me that I hadn't heard that. I made a mental note to arrange a hearing test.
As I was there as a member of the public, I wasn't allowed to interrupt, but the new councillor voiced a question that I'd been thinking myself, about the Town Council's role in deciding the ultimate outcome of planning applications. The response given was, "we don't know whether they actually take any notice of our views." This was beautifully demonstrated during the subsequent review of planning decisions taken by the Borough Council, when it was highlighted that two recent decisions had gone the opposite way to the P&E committee's recommendation, and no-one had a clue why.
The next item was to note the record of the Transport Working Group. One of the councillors helpfully informed everyone that "there's one of those CH64 Transport things on Friday at the Town Hall". I remembered that it was one of those CH64 Transport things that had been deemed the appropriate forum for public consultation about plans to dig up a certain bridleway, and where agreement had apparently been sought and given, and I wondered whether any of the P&E committee would be attending this week's thing. None were intending to go.
The following few agenda items threw up various interesting snippets; there are no limitations on how to spend the 2014/2015 New Homes Bonus, speed monitoring on Upper Raby Road has been affected by the Western Link works, nobody knows who owns the sea wall at Parkgate. By this point I was lulled into expecting that the next item would be just one of those simple formalities that all meetings have to contend with; to consider amending the committee's Terms of Reference by adding four little words. How contentious could that be? How wrong could I be? Apparently, the words "public rights of way" are a touch sensitive these days. Two of the members were "for" the change, in order to avoid the possibility of repeating recent embarrassment in the future. Two were against. The new member looked as baffled by it all as I was. I couldn't fathom out what they agreed in the end - we'll have to wait for the official minutes to find out.
Seating for the bus shelter at Ladies Walk seemed a safe enough subject though, until an apparently random comment was suddenly launched in from left field, about the public wanting footpaths that they could walk along without being muddy. The new member immediately responded, pointing out how mud could be good, and it appeared we were once more heading for a slippery slope, until an alert chair promptly intervened to move the discussion forward, thus preventing further mud slinging.
A decision on the proposal to cut back hedges and trees around Chester Road Car Park in time for Ladies Day, was postponed on the basis that more information and costs were required, though there were clear signs of trepidation from some quarters about risking the public wrath (again) by going anywhere near a hedge with a mechanical implement without prior consultation.
"Any Other Items" revealed that the Town Council had received a report from Mr. Annakin-Smith, (I assume it was a "Mr."), on the unmentionable subject, but as it was received too late to be included in the agenda, so it couldn't be discussed.
The last word prior to the public being excluded from the remainder of the meeting, was an unexpected return to my favourite subject of mosquitoes. Apparently, residents need to be reminded that they are partly to blame for the problems, as a lot of the bloodsucking blighters are of the type that breed in stagnant water in gardens, not on the marsh. This was a surprise to me, as the only data I've managed to unearth said the opposite, but what would I know? So I left the meeting considering my next act of public duty - to fill in my garden pond. Does anyone have any spare planings?
The Silent Member of the Public
Formal minutes will appear on the Town Council website in due course.