HASSOCKS PARISH COUNCIL
Minutes of the virtual meeting of the Annual Parish Meeting of the Parish Council held on 4th May 2021 and followed on from the Annual Statutory Parish Council Meeting.
Attendees: Parish Councillors Ian Weir, Jane Baker, Sue Hatton, Kristian Berggreen, Frank Rylance, Frances Gaudencio, Bob Brewer. Clare Tester, Leslie Campbell, Bill Hatton, Nick Owens, David Bunting and Carolyn Barton.
Parish Clerk: Ian Cumberworth
1. APOLOGIES Cllr Kate Bailey Cllr Alex Simmons
2. CHAIRMANS REPORT
Good evening and welcome to the Annual Meeting of Hassocks Parish Council. This is not a formal Parish Council meeting, but an annual opportunity for residents to hear what the council has been doing over the past year and to ask any questions or raise any issues. The council is interested to hear the views of residents, but I should point out that the meeting has no decision-making powers.
We will be receiving reports from the council’s sub committees on their individual areas of responsibility, so I will not pre-empt these reviews, but give a general overview of the council’s work in my Chairman’s Report.
CHAIRMAN’S ANNUAL REPORT – May 2021
The last year has been challenging for the whole world and the Parish Council is not alone in having to adapt to the changes necessary to keep our staff safe. The introduction of social distancing measures in the Parish Council Office, the need to do risk assessments for all of the facilities within Adastra Park and the introduction of new technology to allow staff to work from home and Parish Councillors to hold meetings remotely has created a huge amount of additional work for the Clerk and his team.
They have risen to the challenge and at the same time kept the normal day-to-day business of the Parish Council running smoothly. I make this point with great emphasis as you will see within the other reports the large amount of project work that has been completed in the last year.
I particularly want to mention the ongoing Adastra Park Masterplan, which has delivered a range of facilities for children and young people. This has proved a godsend to the community during the whole of 2020 when people were encouraged to stay local and exercise outdoors and I have often heard people commenting on how good these facilities are. Other improvements are planned for the next few years.
Understandably, some projects have been delayed and I am pleased to confirm that work on completing the second stage of the Hassocks Traffic and Parking scheme will finally take place during May 2021. This part of the scheme will improve access and traffic flow in a number of feeder roads within Hassocks as well as improving visibility at a number of junctions.
There has been much greater use of local footpaths and bridleways during and since lockdown. Also, Hassocks continues to grow in size attracting people who want access to the countryside. To address this need, the Parish Council has recently completed a review of the Public Rights of Way within the Parish with the aim of improving the state of the most well used paths over time and encouraging developers to improve paths near to new developments so that residents have the option of walking or cycling into the Village centre. Future plans already include a new walking and cycle route from Hassocks via Clayton Mills to Burgess Hill Station and starting in September 2021 Network Rail will build a new tunnel under the railway at Woodside Grange capable of use by both cyclists and walkers which will replace the current dangerous foot crossing.
Being local, the Parish Council is able to work together with local organisations such as Hassocks Community Organisation and HKD Transition and bring together people with the knowledge and experience to improve our community – specifically I mention that following recent flooding the Council has created a flood working Group which draws together local organisations and individuals together with West Sussex County Council and experts in flood prevention schemes to work on better protecting the Village from future risks. Similarly, we are currently in the process of creating a working group to focus on safeguarding and improving our local “High Street”.
Voluntary Groups make a big difference to the quality of life in Hassocks and the Parish Council supports their work by funding new equipment or materials. I want to acknowledge the part played by:
- The Monday Group who build stiles and footbridges and repair local paths
- The Speed watch Group who work with Sussex police to reduce speeding
- The Woodland Flora and Fauna Group who help maintain Talbot Field
- Hassocks Tree Group who organise tree planting on our verges
- Remembrance Garden Volunteer Team who work to keep it looking good.
In addition, the Parish Council directly facilitates:
- Hassocks Christmas Lights
- Hanging Baskets in the village centre
- Remembrance Day Parade
- Dog Waste Collection bins
- Grants to local organisations that support our residents
As part of our service to the local community, the Parish Office continues to provide the first port of call for a wide range of enquiries from the public handling approx. 4000 enquiries each year. It provides help and information on Parish Council matters as well as directing residents to sources of help for District & County Council matters and advice on issues not related to council activities.
It is important to emphasise that the Parish Council carries out a wide range of activities and projects many of which you will hear about in the other Committee Reports and I am constantly impressed by the dedication and time given by my fellow councillors to work on behalf of the community. They are supported by our Parish Clerk and his team – all of whom show equally strong commitment in their work.
To all of you I would like to say THANKYOU
3. REPORT BY COUNCIL COMMITTEE CHAIRMEN
- GROUNDS & ENVIRONMENT COMMITTEE
This report covers the work of the last two years of this committee admirably supported by the HPC staff.
Despite the many issues and changes in work practices due to the COVID-19 restrictions over the last 15 months much has been achieved thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Staff.
- The skate park was completed, likewise the children’s play area in the north field and the play area for young people near the skate park.
- The rain garden was finished.
- Progress has been made with the heating in the Pavilion and the pavilion clock is now working again.
- The office staff have continued to work with the various clubs using the park in particular as the COVID-19 regulations changed, enabling a safe return to sport at every permitted opportunity.
- The poor drainage in the park continues to be a problem. The Clerk has been trying to engage experts to advise on the way forward but currently it is difficult to get responses from those approached.
- Sadly, anti-social behaviour continues to be an issue in the park, ranging from vandalism to dog mess and littering. The office liaises with the police as appropriate.
- Although the volunteers have not been able to work in the Garden of Remembrance of late the garden has been kept neat and tidy by the Groundsman. It is much enjoyed by the residents. Work to improve the quality of the grass is ongoing ready for the summer.
- The Turkey Oak near the Garden of Remembrance had to be removed as disease had made it unsafe. Since then a tree survey has been carried out on all the trees on Council land to enable trees that are dangerous to be removed as a matter of urgency and a care schedule to be put in place to manage the other trees.
- There continues to be a waiting list for these.
- Much work has been achieved by the Hassocks Allotment Holders Association (HAHA) to re-establish the paths and re-mark plots. The positive partnership between Parish Office and HAHA continues to support the smooth management of the allotments.
- Some plots have been sub-divided. A large plot can be daunting to a novice.
- There continue to be regular allotment inspections.
Hassocks Burial Ground
- New gates have been fitted to make the area more secure.
- It continues to be well maintained.
- The Woodland, Flora and Fauna Group of volunteers continue to work enthusiastically to improve the prospects of this small nature reserve. The bat boxes and bird boxes are cleaned and monitored and the wild flower meadow is being developed. We are grateful for their help with this project.
Public Rights of Way (PROW)
- A small working party to review the condition of PROW in and around Hassocks has recently been set up. It is hoped that in partnership with WSCC improvements can be identified and options for improvement explored.
- Our open spaces and PROWS have been well used during these COVID-19 times.
- The popular street tree planting scheme continues to be funded by HPC and organised by the Hassocks Tree Group in partnership with WSCC. Requests for trees are good in number, and the efforts of the volunteers of the Tree Group to oversee this scheme is greatly appreciated.
- The festive lights and hanging baskets continue to be organised and funded by HPC.
- In December 2020, a Flood Working Group was set up to review the issue of flooding within Hassocks and to explore potential solutions.
- The Parking Scheme 2 is nearing completion.
- A small quick response group of councillors is working to have a new sign at the entrance to Adastra Park in place ideally by mid-summer. Chaired by myself.
- Parklands Copse has continued to be enjoyed by residents on their daily walks.
This is only an outline of all that has been achieved by this Committee, its various sub-groups, the Staff and numerous volunteers in the village.
All should be thanked for their commitment especially during these difficult COVID-19 times.
For the Planning Committee, the year to April 2021 has been a busy one that has presented several challenges.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that all meetings of the committee have had to be conducted online. Our Deputy Clerk Tracy Forte who supports this meeting has ably overcome the intricacies of presenting application details electronically, and so overall the committee processes have worked well.
The number of councillors represented on the committee has increased, from six councillors in March 2020 (Jane Baker, Kristian Berggreen, Robert Brewer, Leslie Campbell, Bill Hatton and Nick Owens) to eight at our most recent meeting on 26 April 2021, having been joined by councillors Carolyn Barton and Claire Tester).
As the residents of Hassocks and Keymer locked down, their appetite for home modification and tree lopping seems to have increased and so too the volume of applications we have had to consider, making some meetings quite long.
In September 2020, the committee considered and submitted a response to the Government’s Future Homes Consultation, which (along with responses from many architects and green groups) appears to have had some influence in toughening the environmental (in particular ventilation) and energy-efficiency standards that new homes will have to comply with from 2025 – a date that is woefully far away. Meanwhile new homes continue to be built that add to global heating.
On 24th June 2020, Mid Sussex District Council finally resolved to ‘make’ the Hassocks Neighbourhood Development Plan 2014-2031 and it has fallen to the Planning Committee to implement the policies contained within it. For Planning to my mind the most relevant policies day to day are:
- Policy 14: Residential Development Within and Adjoining the Built-Up Area Boundary of Hassocks; and
- Policy 5: Enabling Zero Carbon
The committee has only marginally been successful in preventing coalescence between Hassocks and Burgess Hill, having not been supported by MSDC in its recommendation to refuse planning for 4 houses that replace 1, in the strategic gap west of the London Road; but its recommendation for refusal was upheld regarding an application to convert a tennis court into a nearly habitable garage west of Ockley Lane.
Policy 5: Enabling Zero Carbon, gives the committee difficulty because as regards extensions, it states that “proposals that modify existing buildings (including extensions) should seek to maximise the inclusion of energy-saving measures and renewable energy generation”; however “maximise” is not otherwise defined and different councillors have differing interpretations of what this means. Many extensions being built today will both consume significant energy and overheat, hopefully at different times of year.
For New Builds, since 31.12.2020 EVERY new building is required by law to be zero carbon, but this is not fully reflected in the MSDC District Plan policies nor fully in our own Neighbourhood Plan policy nor in Building Regulations. These latter won’t catch up with the law till about June 2022. This is most unsatisfactory as we have over 600 houses already approved in principle for which detailed designed plans will shortly be submitted, and they are likely to be built to a sub-standard. It is therefore important that in the coming months, the Neighbourhood Plan Committee works in tandem with MSDC Planning Officers to try and get an energy efficiency guide built into the policies and procedures of MSDC Planning.
- POLICY RESOURCES & COMMUNICATIONS COMMITTEE
In this year of Covid lockdown the Clerk and staff team continued to work from the office and from home, whilst the groundsman continued his duties outdoors.
Although sporting and organised leisure activities ceased in the park, staff still dealt with queries from club organisers, and continued to deal with contractors and the public via phone and email. Risk assessments were done and changes made to ensure safety in the office.
In addition, the Clerk ensured that Members were able to continue the work of Committees via Zoom meetings
The Clerk attended a number of virtual training sessions including the NALC Annual conference which included sessions on
- Understanding Risk & Insurance during Covid – 19
- Ethical & Responsible Investment
- Parish & Town Council Funds
- Neighbourhood Planning – Where are we
- A Clerks Life – The Truth
- Rebuilding Communities
- Unlocking the potential in the High Street
The Deputy Clerk also attended virtual training sessions on Website Accessibility and Legionella
Although we lost some income from clubs and hiring out, some budgets were underutilised. We also received some S106 monies due from developers and a Covid Support Grant from the government. The Clerk has again prudently managed the funds of the Parish Council and as a result we achieved a sound audit report. The Parish Council has decided not to increase the precept this time as we have a sufficiently healthy financial balance for the coming financial year and do not wish to add to the economic impacts of the pandemic on our residents.
Policies are necessary to comply with legislation and to guide the way in which we do our work. Among those reviewed this year were:
- Members Code of Conduct
- Grant Scheme
- Induction Policy
The Clerk and some Councillors have contributed several articles to Hassocks Life magazine reporting some of the work being done by the Parish Council. The layout has been given a branding by the editor to make our articles more prominent.
Work continues on our website to make it compliant to accessibility standards.
The Committee has been regularly reviewing and updating the Business Plan and it is clear that the Council has achieved much, through its various committees and working groups – despite the difficult circumstances over this year.
None of this of course would be possible without the hard work and dedication of the Clerk and his team and I would like to put on record my thanks to them all.
- NEIGHBOURHOOD PLAN COMMITTEE
This Committee was set up in 2020 as a successor to the Neighbourhood Plan Working Group which steered the production of the Hassocks Neighbourhood Plan The Plan was supported by over 98% of those who voted at referendum in March 2020 and was formally made part of the statutory Development Plan by Mid Sussex District Council in July. This means that it is an important consideration when the District Council decides planning applications in the parish.
The purpose of the Committee is to keep the Neighbourhood Plan under review to make sure it stays relevant and up to date and is being used correctly. This may include publishing guidance documents that help residents and planning officers to apply the Plan’s policies.
The Committee will also be responsible for responding to consultations on other planning matters, including the review of the Mid Sussex District Plan and pre-application proposals by developers. This is to make sure that the community has a stronger voice in what development happens in Hassocks and can influence planning decisions at an early stage.
4. OPEN FORUM: OPPORTUNITY FOR MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC TO RAISE ANY ISSUES.
No members of the public were present therefore the Chair formally closed the meeting.