The last year has been one of many changes, which have presented the parish council with a range of challenges.
With the death of county councillor John Taylor at the beginning of the year the parish council lost not only a knowledgeable colleague, but also a valuable link to the county council.
To fill the void, the officers of the parish council undertook various liaison tasks with county council officers to progress issues identified as being of concern to the community.
This did raise questions of accountability, transparency and governance. These issues were addressed by the parish council and the officers’ actions were endorsed. At no stage were any decisions made without reference back to the clerk and full council.
Parking within the parish is of significant concern to all residents. The increase in visitor numbers means that throughout the tourist season there are not sufficient spaces for cars to park.
The parish council has continued to work with the county council and has now convinced officers that it is necessary to increase the capacity of the quarry car park. Unfortunately, it has not proved possible to purchase the wasteland in the quarry so alternatives have been investigated. As only one coach per month pays for parking in the quarry this facility will be removed and the space released allocated to cars.
The county council has now obtained estimates to extend the car park by moving the perimeter fence closer to the quarry wall and is planning to do this work later in the year. This should make a significant increase in the capacity of the car park, with no adverse environmental impact.
The initial work on this project was to be commenced this week, but following representations by the parish council it has been put back until after the school half-term holiday – a good example of where our local knowledge can ensure a better service from the county council.
On high days and holidays the capacity will still be insufficient and with the cooperation of the Greys the turn field will be used as an overflow facility. To reduce the need to man this car park while it is in use the parish council is investigating the provision of a re-conditioned solar powered ticket machine.
Parking within Craster village has been a problem and this year we have worked with the county council and have had the existing restrictions amended and extended where appropriate. We are pressing for strict enforcement to reduce the incidents of parking in prohibited areas.
Of particular concern during the year has been parking for residents on Heugh Wynd. The village has benefited from our ward county councillor’s initiative in allocating £18,000 of Members Local Improvement Scheme funds to strengthening the verges outside of five houses and hopefully this action will solve the problem.
During the year, eight planning applications were made for developments within the parish. On one of these the recommendation of the parish council was contrary to that of the planning officers. This was an outline application for the development of the Bark Potts site by the demolition of the café, removal of the log cabins and the building of up to six houses.
Having taken account of the views of the community, the parish council tried to ensure that the application was amended so that at least six houses would be built, thereby ensuring an affordable element. The reason for this was that if fewer than six houses were to built then there would be no requirement for that element.
The planning committee took note of our concerns and agreed to monitor any subsequent full application. This served to highlight once again the continuing issue of the supply of affordable housing within the community.
The condition of the road outside the Cottage Inn in Dunstan has continued to be of concern. It was allocated the highest priority by the parish council and was included in the county council’s schedule of works for the year. Although some initial investigative work has been carried out, no firm date for the renovation work has been forthcoming.
The parish council has been more successful with pursuing the flooding of the road at the bottom of the Tower Bank.
In conjunction with county council officers, the parish council conducted a detailed investigation and a county council drain on the east side of the road was been exposed. This drain had been overgrown and blocked. The drain, and the associated culvert, has now been cleared and the water can once again flow under the road to the burn on the west side. This appears to have solved the problem and during recent heavy rains there were no signs of flooding.
The maintenance of parish council assets has been put on a formal basis with a contract being placed for the inspection and repair of the bins, bus shelters and notice boards. This was achieved through a formal tendering process to ensure we obtained value for the public purse.
The major expenditure of the council in the recent past has been the subsidy given to the Embleton Joint Burial Committee, which runs the Spitalford cemetery on behalf of Newton, Embleton and Craster parish councils. This year there has been a major change in the management of the cemetery and a policy to operate without subsidies has been approved by all three councils.
This is being achieved by the committee through significant savings in the operating costs and increasing the charges for the services provided.
For many years the residents have been subsidising funerals in the Spitalford cemetery by approximately £1,000 per funeral. This has now ceased and the parish council decided to allocate £1,000 of the money saved towards the purchase and installation of a defibrillator.
This will be placed on the wall of the Life Boat Station and will be available for use in emergencies by residents and visitors alike. Training will be provided to all who wish it so that should the need arise the equipment can be used to sustain life until the professional paramedics arrive.
After serving the parish and the burial committee for many years our clerk, Helen Brewis, decided to resign in September. She agreed to stay on until we could find a replacement which, in the event, took longer than anticipated. However, the council has started the new year with a new clerk, who will also serve Embleton Parish Council and the Burial Committee.
The numerous changes in the regulations relating to parish councils have made the work more onerous and we are fortunate to have found a clerk with extensive experience of local government. The council has also negotiated with Embleton to share all costs relating to the recruitment, training and on-going development of the clerk and any common systems.
For many years the precept has been set by the parish council at £5,000 per year. This equates to approximately £20 per head of the resident population. This year our commitments were approximately £6,000. These were higher because we decided to contribute to the purchase of a defibrillator for the parish and were still committed to the last subsidy to the cemetery.
The council decided to keep the precept the same as we know next year we will have no contribution to make to the cemetery and we have adequate reserves to cover unforeseen expenditure.
We do have a significant unknown as we go forward that relates to the cost of the new clerk.
The workload for parish councils is increasing and if the council is to adequately serve the interests of the residents then either individual councillors are going to have to undertake defined responsibilities or more work will have to done by the clerk at a cost to the community. This is a policy decision that the council has to address if the clerk is not to be obliged to undertake these tasks by default.
The parish council is responsible to the residents of the parish and the greater community. In reality it takes few direct decisions as its authority is very limited. However, it can have influence and has the responsibility to advise other bodies on local issues. During the last year, by the officers of the parish council pursuing community issues, important changes have been made.
The role of parish councillor is not a sinecure and all councillors must be prepared to work for the community they have been elected or co-opted to serve.
The parish council currently has a vacancy and is looking for someone who wants to work for the community to help promote and influence change.
The views of residents are vital to the parish council. Accountability and transparency are important in all levels of government and the parish councillors need to know the views of those they represent.