News

Two council vacancies still to be filled

There are still two vacancies to be filled on the Parish Council after recent resignations left four of the seven places vacant.

Two of the vacancies have now been filled. Graham Porcas was elected unopposed in August and Charlotte Clarke has accepted an offer of to be co-opted on to the council following the September meeting.

Of the two remaining vacancies, one is open to election. A Notice of Election was published on 5th October, and nominations must be received by Friday, 13th October. If there is an election, it will be held on Thursday, 9th October. To see the Election Notice, please click here.

The second vacancy can be filled by co-option if a volunteer can be found.

The Parish Council has appealed for candidates to come forward for both posts. For further information please contact the Parish Clerk, Cathy Fleet on 01869 347000 or email parishclerk.steepleaston@gmail.com.

A general election for all members of the council will be held in May 2018.


From Steeple Aston to Westminster calling for a revolution

Local resident, Helen Wright, has been to Westminster calling for a revolution! She wants to see a revolution in the work place, and an end of the 9 to 5 – and she has the support of our local MP and a Government Minister.

Helen, who is also a Steeple Aston parish councillor, has set up 9-2-3, a recruitment agency that specialises in finding flexible work for experienced professionals. Now she’s had the support of local MP Victoria Prentis to set up The 9-2-3 Club, which will host meetings in London and across the Thames Valley, aiming to enable people to get together and share their flexible working experiences, and hopefully help those who have had a career break to re-enter the workplace.

The 9-2-3 Club was launched at an event in the House of Commons on13th September, where Helen revealed the findings of a new survey commissioned by 9-2-3. It found the British workplace landscape will be changing substantially over the next five years as nearly three out of four4 (73%) office workers envisage that working flexibly will become the norm. The survey also showed that flexibility (26%) is often the third most important key influencer on career choices after pay and location.

The launch was also attended by Margot James MP (Minister for Small Business, Consumers and Corporate Responsibility) who spoke passionately about the benefits of flexible working – for employees, employers and society as a whole.

Helen called for all businesses to advertise their next hire as a flexible one, and said: “It’s our hope that through this event and future events, the perceived negative connotations of working flexibly will be reversed and a greater uptake of flexible arrangements will occur across Britain – in fact I would like to see all vacancies being advertised with some flexible arrangements. I am also calling on all candidates to ask about flexible working practices in their next interview, not a demand, just a question.”

Victoria Prentis MP is adding her support to the campaign and states:  “Having job shared before I became a MP, I am really supportive of any initiative that encourages flexibility in the workplace. It is not just mums and dads who have career breaks – increasingly we are seeing people taking on caring responsibilities for elderly relatives as well. Helping these talented professionals to continue to work is so important.

“I know that the Government is keen to encourage flexible work days and programmes aimed at Returners. £5m in funding has been earmarked to help people – in particular mothers – back to work, and last month it was announced that some of this money will go towards schemes to help civil servants, teachers, social workers and health workers get back to work after a career break. We are making good progress in the right direction.”

Mum-of-three, Helen is passionate about this campaign to drive flexible working in workplaces everywhere, and she says the idea came to her while she was pushing her children on the swings in Steeple Aston playground. “I had been struggling to find any flexible or part-time work, and I looked around and realized I wasn’t alone. The playground was full of talented and experienced professionals all looking for flexible opportunities. And at the same time there are lots of businesses out there struggling to find the talent they need to help their business thrive and grow.”

9-2-3 now has more than a thousand candidates on their books, and they look forward to welcoming many more. Companies of all sizes are also being invited to take part, and join in the conversation. For more information, go to http://www.923jobs.com

To see a short video of Helen, Victoria Prentis and Margot James speaking at the meeting, please click here


“Quack Pot” repairs completed despite heavy showers

The potholes outside the White Lion in Southside, Steeple Aston became famous across the world after some rather appealing yellow ducks appeared floating in the puddles.

Parish Councillors Martin Lipson and Helen Wright engineered the stunt with the help of a few local residents when there was no response after 18 months of complaints to Oxfordshire County Council. The story went viral and council was persuaded to act.

It took them some time to get all their ducks in a row! But finally the work was done on Friday, 8th September, despite heavy showers again bringing a few ducks out to enjoy the scene.

The story featured once again on the BBC Oxford website. To read it, please click here.

Thank you to Glynn Haines of Kempsford Cottage who took these photos of the work as it progressed.


 

No local sites chosen for Oxford overspill housing 

All the six sites in Steeple and Middle Aston offered for development to help with Oxford’s housing needs have been rejected as unsuitable in a recently published report.

Cherwell District Council last year issued a “call for sites” prompted by the demand for housing from Oxford City. It subsequently carried out its first ever Housing and Economic Land Availability Assessment (HELAA) and the results have now been published.

The report concludes that none of the six sites in the two villages are suitable for housing development. One site, Hatch End Industrial Estate between Steeple and Middle Aston, known locally as the chicken farm, is considered suitable for providing rural employment. 

The other sites put forward by their owners were two large sites on Fenway (part of a farm which has recently been sold), two smaller sites on Southside and Middle Aston Lane and the former sandworks at the Old Quarry House on Fenway. This site, which has been a source of recent controversy, this month became the subject of an area Tree Preservation Order by CDC. It has also been proposed as a designated Local Green Space in the draft of the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan.

The fact that these sites have been found unsuitable to provide housing for Oxford City doesn’t mean they can never be developed, but it does mean it is less likely. Parish Councillor Martin Lipson, who is Chair of the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan Forum commented, “These assessments do not mean that applicants will not attempt to obtain planning permission at some point in the future, in the hope that they may get CDC’s likely refusal overturned on appeal. However the assessments should discourage them.” 

Details of the local sites considered by the council are below with a summary of the council’s commentary. Each assessment notes that Steeple Aston is a Category A village in the council’s Local Plan, the category of the most sustainable villages in the district. The plan makes provision for some development (10 or more homes and small scale employment) in Category A villages. Middle Aston is a Category B village in the Local Plan (satellite village). The plan does not direct additional development at Category B villages other than extensions to existing employment sites. Also it notes that Steeple and Middle Aston lie outside the main Areas of Search identified by the council as suitable for Oxford overspill. They were Kidlington and the surrounding area, which are much closer to the city and have good transport links. 

The local sites considered were as follows: 

Land to the rear of The Old Quarry House, Fenway, Steeple Aston 6.51 hectares

Greenfield site outside the built‐up limits. The site’s only frontage with a highway is that of the Old Quarry House on the south western part of the site with residential properties either side. With the exception of the Old Quarry House, the site comprises an area of ancient woodland. The south eastern part of the site is adjacent to Steeple Aston Conservation Area. The north western boundary abuts arable and horticultural with an area of similar habitats also within the north eastern corner of the site. Access works could have an adverse effect on the character and appearance of the area. The site is considered to be unsuitable for development as it has a rural character and relates much more to the countryside than to the built form of Steeple Aston.

Land to South of Fenway, Steeple Aston 2.37 hectares

Greenfield site outside the built‐up limits. The site is considered to be unsuitable for development as the site is on the edge of the village and does not relate well to the existing village in terms of being able to accommodate development. The area feels rural in nature given the farm to the east before you get to the village. It would not be possible to achieve a satisfactory form of development that satisfactorily links with the village without harm being caused to the character and appearance of the rural approach to the village.

Land to North of Fenway, Steeple Aston 3.32 hectares

Greenfield site outside the built‐up limits. A restricted byway runs along the eastern boundary of the site. The southeast corner of the site abuts the Conservation Area boundary. The western boundary of the site is adjacent to an Archaeological Constraint Priority Area. The site is considered to be unsuitable for development as the site is on the edge of the village and does not relate well to the existing village in terms of being able to accommodate development. It would not be possible to achieve a satisfactory form of development without harm being caused to the character and appearance of the area. The site would also be detached from Coneyger Fields by the restricted byway and would result in two separate cul‐de‐sacs.

Land East of Southside between Kiftsgate House and the small industrial unit, Steeple Aston 1.25 hectares

A part greenfield, part brownfield site outside the built‐up limits. The northern and eastern boundaries of the site abut the Conservation Area. The site is considered to be unsuitable for development as it would be out of character with the village and its setting but would also change the rural approach to the village. There is a potential access constraint. It would be difficult to achieve a satisfactory form of development that would suit the character of this area of the village and it would also be difficult to achieve satisfactory connectivity/footpaths to the rest of the village.

Land adjoining Middle Aston Lane, Middle Aston 2.67 hectares

Greenfield site outside the built‐up limits. A Public Bridleway crosses the site and runs along part of its southern boundary. The site is considered to be unsuitable for development as the site would extend development beyond the village envelope into the countryside and would be out of keeping with the built form for the village. The village is predominantly a farming village and the open farmland forms part of its character and setting. Development would be particularly prominent on approaching the village from the north impacting on the rural approach to the village.

Hatch End Industrial Estate, Middle Aston/Steeple Aston 2.3 hectares

Brownfield site outside the built‐up limits. The site falls partly within Middle Aston and Steeple Aston parishes. A previous assessment in 2014 considered this site and concluded it was unsuitable for residential development as it would have a poor, detached relationship with the village to the detriment of the character and appearance of the area, and would result in loss of rural employment land. This remains relevant. A public footpath runs along the southern boundary of the site. The southern‐ most tip of the site lies within the Steeple Aston Conservation Area. The site is considered to be unsuitable for residential due to the narrow access road from Fir Lane but is also not suitable for significant intensification over that already experienced. The site is outside the village and feels within a rural location. Residential development would be out of keeping with the character of the area and would represent an isolated housing site. The site could potentially be suitable for employment based on planning history.

To see the full report with appendices and maps please click here  and scroll down to PR54 to find the HELAA report.


TPO imposed on Old Quarry and extended at Hill House

Following the controversy about Tree Preservation Orders (TPOs) in Grange Park, Cherwell District Council has introduced a new area TPO on the site behind the Old Quarry House, Fenway and extended another one at Hill House on Sixty Foot.

The Old Quarry House site was itself the subject of some controversy earlier in the year, after the owner John Bowerman died. Solicitors for his niece Penny Ferreiro Cives wrote to Steeple Aston Life objecting to an obituary describing the area behind the house as a nature reserve.

Since then the site has been proposed as a designated Local Green Space in the draft of the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan. Now as a result of a request from a number of concerned local residents (including some from Grange Park), Cherwell District Council has designated the whole of the site as an Area TPO. This protects all the trees on the site, including the ones that are visible from the Beeches footpath that runs between Middle Aston Road and Raspberry Break.

A tree preservation order prevents the cutting down, topping or lopping of the trees included in the order. The order is provisional for six months, and before it is confirmed, interested parties may make objections or representations to the council about any of the trees affected. Representations about the Old Quarry House site have to be made in writing by 2nd October. Details are in the copies of the orders below.

The Parish Council discussed and approved the nomination of the site as a Local Green Space at its meeting in February. It is included in the draft MCNP document, which is now open for consultation.

The draft plan describes the site as special to the community because of its historical significance, the richness of its wildlife and its tranquillity. It says it is a wildlife site undisturbed for 40 years, following land restoration after sand works ceased operation around 1960. There are about six hectares of open grassland with scrub including gorse, broom and bramble with some small walnut and hazel trees. Bats are common, together with owls, raptors, woodpeckers, and many other bird species. Apart from various vertebrates that inhabit the site, there are also reptiles such as lizards and grass snakes, and it is believed to be the last site in North Oxfordshire for adders. It suggests that the area is a possible candidate for protected status as a site of special scientific interest (SSSI).

In addition to proposing the new Area TPO at the Old Quarry House, CDC reviewed another existing Area TPO in the village in August, affecting the block of mature trees on the Hill House estate on the western edge of the village that runs at right angles to Sixty Foot (next to the field gate) heading off towards Fenway. Protection of these trees was reclassified as a Woodland TPO, and a further nine individual trees that were not previously protected were added; these front Sixty Foot between the field gate and the entrance to Mulberry House.

To see the Tree Preservation order on the Old Quarry House, please click here.

To see the details of the extension to the Hill House order, please click here.


New parish councillor will be “hands on”

Graham Porcas, who has joined the Parish Council after an uncontested election, has promised he will approach his new role with a ‘can do’ attitude.

After the recent spate of resignations, his aim is to help the council to be a happier and more open environment where there’s more doing than talking. And he’s starting as he means to go on by finding a couple of volunteers to help him renovate the pagoda in the Millennium Park.

Graham and his wife Sue came to Steeple Aston in the 1980s thinking they would stay for a couple of years. After more than 30 years here working hard and travelling a lot for work, Graham is about to retire. Now he’s looking forward to having time to take a more active part in village life.

Their three children Emma, Katie and James, who grew up here and went to the village school, have all left home now. Graham and Sue have border collie Charlie as their constant companion, but are enjoying spending time with their four grandchildren too.

Graham is originally from Watford, studied engineering at Bristol University and then spent time in Germany after graduation. He has spent his working life as a mechanical engineer specialising in plastics. He was managing director of Krupps Plastics Machinery until 2005. Since then he has been based at home in Grange Park working as director of Plasmatreat UK, an international company that is the world market leader in atmospheric plasma-jet technology, and his own company, Proma Machinery Ltd.

He has developed an impressive workshop at home where he’s been working on new plasma treatment of plastics. Now that he’s retiring the company, is opening a new workshop in Culham.

He won’t give up work completely but he will have more time for his hobbies of model engineering and working as blacksmith. Not only did Graham teach himself how to be a blacksmith, he also built his own forge in his garden at Grange Park.

He hopes some of his practical skills will be put to good use for the village when he’s a parish councillor. He also thinks there are many other villagers with skills who could be brought in to help fix things in the village.

He was disappointed that there were no other volunteers to stand in the Parish Council election, but says he is hopeful that once there is more stability others will be keen to get involved. He said, “I am comfortable that we will soon get a full council again.”

He says he intends to get heavily involved himself and hopes that his ‘can do’ attitude will mean that the interests of villagers are better looked after in the future. He knows he has a lot to learn about local government, but he has plenty of experience working on committees both in this country and internationally.

Graham and Sue have a particular interest in making sure the play area continues to thrive. Not only do they take their grandchildren there when they visit, but back in the year 2000 their daughter Katie was one of the two children chosen to open the Millennium Park.


Neighbourhood Plan consultation period extended

The consultation period for the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan has been extended by two weeks to October 3rd.

The Plan was published in August with a six week consultation to September 19th. Now the consultation period has been extended because, according to the MCNP website, “In mid-August we experienced some problems with our website – the draft Plan documents were unavailable to view for a few days.

“In addition, we’ve added some background documents to our Evidence Base, which you can see in Appendix L. We’ve therefore decided to provide an extended period for anyone who has not yet had a chance to respond with comments – supportive or otherwise.” The new Appendix L gives details of the evidence base for the Plan’s proposals.

In his monthly report from the Plan Forum, John Coley wrote: “After three years of hard work we have launched one of the largest Neighbourhood Development Plans in the UK.

“On our website www.mid-cherwell.org.uk/presubmissiondocuments you will find a full version of the Plan, together with Appendices.  For those who don’t want to go into too much detail initially, there is a Summary on the site as well.  The policies include traffic, housing development, and community infrastructure, and incorporate designation of 29 “Local Green Spaces”.  Hard copies are also available from the Parish Council.

“We want feedback on the Plan, especially from residents and businesses in the area. The Plan is at what is called the “Pre-submission” stage, so we need responses before we submit the Plan formally to Cherwell District Council…..  We will then consider all responses and a final version will go to CDC before the end of the year.  The Plan will then go for Examination and if it passes that stage, to referendum to become part of the statutory development plan for the area.

“On the website, we have a response form for easy and quick submission of your views on-line. There is also a version to print off and send back to Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan Forum, Heyford Park House, 52 Camp Road Upper Heyford OX25 5HD.

“There will be a final occasion for comments when CDC undertakes its formal consultations in 2018.”

A press release published when the Plan was launched described it as follows: “Unique in the UK because of its scale, the Mid-Cherwell area comprises eleven rural parishes in the Cherwell District of North Oxfordshire. At the heart of the neighbourhood area is the former RAF Upper Heyford airbase, now a strategic development site called Heyford Park, whose developer is also involved in the plan. It was this development that was the stimulus for many surrounding villages to get together to create a statutory plan covering the wider area for the next 15 years.

“The hard work of the Forum, the body leading the plan and representing all the participating communities, has now resulted in a list of policies concerning traffic, housing development, and community infrastructure – including the proposed designation of 29 “Local Green Spaces”.

The Plan is available to view online at www.mid-cherwell.org.uk . Paper copies can be found at village halls and from parish councils.