News Archive 2017

 July

Three Parish Council vacancies after more resignations

Steeple Aston Parish Council is reduced to only four members following the unexpected resignations of Chairman John Coley and Councillor Rose McCready at July’s meeting.

The two resignations were unconnected and for personal reasons. John Coley stood down on the advice of his doctors. He will continue with work on the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan as he doesn’t have to be a Councillor to take part.

The Parish Council expressed its thanks to John on behalf of the village saying:

“Just before the meeting on 17 July, the Parish Council was sorry to learn that John Coley, the Chair since 2014, had decided to stand down on the advice of his doctors.

The position of Chair is not without stress these days, with a constant barrage of government proposals to keep an eye on, alongside the day-to-day business of the Council.

In his desire to do the best for the village John has also spent a great deal of time on the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan (MCNP), in the belief that involving Steeple Aston under this umbrella organisation and participating in an eleven parish-wide coordinated plan for development would help the village avoid unwanted housing developments.

In addition, John has become a key figure in the OALC where he took on chair duties. Beyond all this he worked tirelessly on ‘home’ duties as well, diligently reviewing ever-increasing numbers of planning applications and chasing Oxfordshire County Council and Cherwell District Council over matters which in better financial times would have been dealt with expeditiously.

John has been a Parish Councillor for fifteen years. The Parish Council on behalf of the whole village wishes to put on record deep gratitude for all that he has done over so many years. We wish him a long period of completely relaxed full retirement. ”

There was already a vacancy on the council following the resignation of long-standing vice-chairman Richard Preston in May. The newly-appointed vice-chairman Stuart Ferguson will have to take over as acting chairman for the summer while the necessary legal process for electing or appointing new councillors takes place. And he will have only three other remaining councillors to help him.

A notice has been issued giving residents the opportunity to ask for an election. If 10 or more residents request an election by 9th August, it will have to be held. But elections are costly and it is possible to co-opt members instead pending the next regular local elections. The next opportunity to vote for the whole council will be in May 2018.

As there is no parish council meeting in August the first opportunity to co-opt three new members will be at the meeting on September 18th. If you are interested in becoming a parish councillor and would like to find out more about the role, please contact the Parish Clerk Cathy Fleet on 01869 347000 or email parishclerk.steepleaston@gmail.com.


Neighbourhood Plan publication delayed to mid-August

It was hoped that the latest draft of the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan would be published in July. There has been a slight delay, but it will now be published on 12th August with just a short period for consultation finishing on 18th September. The final stage in the process, a referendum has now been put back to September 2018.

John Coley is continuing to work on the Plan, despite his resignation as Chairman of the Parish Council. Here is his latest report on the progress made so far:

“By the time you read this we will have sent our draft to be printed in full. A copy will be available on our website www.mid-cherwell.org.uk by 12th August.

“This is what is called a “Pre-Submission Consultation” where we ask others to comment on our policies. When the consultation period is over (18th September) we then must consider what has been aired, making changes to take account of those views where we feel able to do so in the context of what was agreed earlier in public meetings.

“Following on from what others have told us about the amount of work involved in collating, discussing and considering all the opinions, we will require a fairly lengthy timescale. We hope, therefore to finalise all our policies together with various formal Statements which must put together and formally to submit the Neighbourhood Plan and all its associated annexes to Cherwell District Council early in December 2017.  CDC in turn must have an official consultation, then send our Plan plus all the comments from their consultation to the Examiner for formal and final Examination.  We expect that to take until July 2018.  Any suggested modifications and recommendations by the Examiner must be discussed with CDC before we can go to a Referendum.  That is unlikely to happen before September 2018.

“So, you see, the end is getting nearer, but there’s a long road to trek yet before we get to the end. Just bear with us as we travel it.”

To find out more about the Forum and its proposals, go to www.mid-cherwell.org.uk


June

Neighbourhood Plan to be published in July

Following a report from an Independent Examiner, the Mid Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan is being revised with a view to publication in July. Under this revised timetable, if all goes well, there will be a referendum around April next year.

The MCNP Forum met for the first time in public on Wednesday, 17th May in Steeple Aston Village Hall. This gave members of the public a chance to see the Forum in action, and to question the representatives of the 11 parishes, the Heyford Park developer Dorchester and Heyford Park Residents Association.

Traffic, transport and the provision of health services were the main concerns of the members of the public. And the Forum members were able to reassure them that these items are high on their agenda too.

The report from the Examiner suggested it may be possible to include more about traffic in the plan. It also suggested that the number of policies should be reduced, partly by joining up some of them, and that some unacceptable wording should be removed.

In addition, the Examiner advised that the boundaries of the five villages where development is anticipated should be loosened up to provide more space for a limited number of new dwellings. Steeple and Middle Aston are included in the five, and so are currently revisiting this issue.

Further work is also continuing on many details including: preserving views; providing a green buffer between Heyford Park and Upper Heyford, and maybe Caulcott; green corridors in general and biodiversity sites and the possible inclusion of ‘extra care’ housing.

In his monthly report, Parish Council Chairman, John Coley, gives some more details. He starts with a quote from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast.”

He continues: “This has been our theme for the month. The Forum Executive has looked again very critically at all our policies in the Mid-Cherwell Local Plan.  This inevitably means that we have had to take time to reconsider them in the light of updated information and what already appears in the Cherwell Local Plan – to which we must conform.  There have been several Neighbourhood Plans where the final Examination has struck out those policies which simply duplicate National or Local policies. It is better now to try to get these correct, or better still, to add our own detailed evidence to enhance them, rather than rewrite them when we are up against very tight deadlines for a Referendum. We must make sure we say exactly what we mean, or we are all hostages to fortune.

Other policies have emerged from community engagement meetings, such as establishing wild life corridors, types of street lighting, if any at all. We need to ensure these are soundly based on evidence, not preference.  For example, if we want grass verges, not concrete, we need to show evidence that grass is the more “sustainable”.  The next stage is that we will publish the Plan for the so-called “pre-submission” consultation, after which it goes formally to CDC. After their comments, it will be out for formal Public Consultation, when we expect developers and statutory bodies to respond.

Some parishes are earmarked by CDC to take future housing development because of the infrastructure they, or a “satellite village”, have (we have a pub, a shop, a school). We need to review the proposed boundaries of those five settlements to ensure that they are adequate for some development to take place between now and 2031 -the length of time our Plan will stand. The number of new small-scale developments could be a few a year up to 2031. We have asked those parish councils to look again at the sufficiency of their provision.”

To find out more about the Forum and its proposals, go to www.mid-cherwell.org.uk


May

Community Speedwatch already making a difference

Long running radio soap, The Archers, is mirroring life here in Steeple Aston, as residents of the fictional Ambridge set up a Community Speedwatch campaign!

Steeple Aston’s very own Speedwatch campaign is now up and running, with around a dozen volunteers taking it in turns to don hi-vis vests and use a speed gun to monitor and record the speeds of vehicles using roads in our village. The results are then forwarded on to Thames Valley Police, who decide what action to take.

So far volunteers have set up on Paines Hill, and on South Side (by Bradshaw Close), and those who walked by all commented on what a difference having them there made. The consensus was that the presence of the Speedwatch team really slowed cars down, and made pedestrians feel safer.

Pictured here on South Side braving a miserable wet day are volunteers Paul Beadman, John Coley and Martin Lipson.

Helen Wright, one of the Parish Councillors involved in setting up the campaign said: “We are really pleased with the start we’ve made so far. The aim of the campaign isn’t to catch people speeding – it’s to slow vehicles down, and encourage people to think about their speed when they’re driving through our village.”

If anyone wants to join the initiative, they’re encouraged to email Helen (Helenewright@rocketmail.com).


Parish Council expenditure explained

Council tax bills have a number of different elements covering county and district council expenditure as well as police and parish council charges. Julia Whybrew, who covers parish council meetings for Steeple Aston Life, explains what the Parish Council receives and what it spends our money on.

She writes: “Our Council Tax has a number of elements and 3.7per cent of the total is for the ‘Precept’ ie the spending by our Parish Council.   Between us all this comes to £26,698.44.  Every household in Steeple Aston contributes to the precept though those in Middle Aston don’t pay any precept because they do not have a Parish Council.  This is not necessarily the exact amount spent because if there is an unforeseen disaster the Council may have to spend more by drawing on the reserves.

“There are six major areas of expenditure; the upkeep of the play area, cutting the grass, paying the Clerk, the Play Area loo, repaying the loan to flatten Robinsons Field and insurance. In addition there are a number of grants to support local activities and some unavoidable administrative expenses.  I have described these in turn below.

“The upkeep of the play area and the Millennium Park comes to £2,900 and this year there is expected to be another £2,400 needed for repairs and a new trampoline mat.  The area is regularly inspected and kept clean and the sand and bark are replenished as needed.  The need for regular repairs is inevitable considering the enormous use made of our excellent play facilities.

“Cutting the grass, looking after the hedges and the weed spraying is expected to cost about £4,800 of which the grass cutting accounts for £4,000. Cherwell used to pay to cut the grass but their contribution has been gradually reduced and this year, for the first time, the Councillors are not expecting them to contribute anything for this.  In addition the Parish Council pays £600 to the church towards the cost of cutting the grass in the churchyard and the cemetery.

“We are lucky to have a fully trained Parish Clerk who does some hours for this village and is also a Parish Clerk in two other places.  Her salary and her expenses together come to £4,600.

“The lavatory in the play area has to be kept clean and supplied with lavatory paper. Together this comes to about £2,300.   It cost more last year because then paper towels were supplied but now there is a hand dryer instead. If only there was an easy alternative to the costly lavatory paper.

“We are paying off the loan taken out to flatten Robinsons Close and turn it into a football pitch and general play area.  The loan has about another fifteen years to run and costs £2,300 a year. The only other large expense is for insurance for which the cost this year is £2,000 a year.

“Then there are some oddments, none of which are very large individually but they add up to £3,800 in total.  These contribute to a wide range of village facilities and include; £500 to Steeple Aston Life, £440 for the Mid Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan, £350 to SAVA, £84 to the website, £50 to the Deddington library and £17 for a poppy wreath.

“Finally there are some unavoidable expenses such as the audit fees, training the Councillors and hiring the committee room of the Village Hall for meetings. Altogether these come to about £900.

“I find it reassuring that frequently I have listened to the Parish Councillors agonising about what they are paying and there has been no occasion when I have thought they were profligate or thoughtless about what they were spending.”


“Quack Pot” protest goes viral – and gets results!

The Steeple Aston “Quack Pot” protest against the potholes on South Side certainly caught the public’s imagination. Within hours it appeared in local papers, then Parish Councillor Helen Wright appeared on local radio and television. Soon it was buzzing around the internet. The story was for a while number 10 in the stories most read on the BBC website, Facebook was humming and it appeared on news websites such as The Poke.

Later, it also appeared in national newspapers including the The Times, The Sun and the Daily Mail, and Martin Lipson was interviewed on Radio 5 Live. To listen to his interview, please click here.

It seems that Oxfordshire County Council’s Highways Department also noticed the publicity. An official visited the road immediately, and said a team will be sent soon to do a detailed inspection. Then they will fix the potholes using their fire-breathing Dragon Patcher.

The idea for the protest started as a bit of a joke when Parish Council Chairman John Coley suggested in his Annual Report that the rash of holes had become so bad that the council might consider a “Quack Pots Day” where they would fill all the holes with water and float plastic ducks in the ponds.

Fellow councillor Martin Lipson happened to have several hundred plastic ducks in his basement (previously used for a children’s charity event). So on a very rainy Wednesday, 17th May he floated 100 of them in the potholes outside the Old White Lion.

Young Woody Wright, pictured above, had lots of fun playing with the yellow ducks. But his mother Helen explained it was a serious attempt to get something done about the potholes which have been worrying villagers for nearly two years, causing at least three of them to trip and fall recently.

In a press release sent to local media and to county councillor Aresh Fatemian the parish council said, “Drivers and pedestrians in South Side, Steeple Aston were astonished last Wednesday to find their much-loved potholes inhabited by one hundred bright yellow ducks.

“Villagers and others have had to negotiate this particularly bad stretch of potholes in the centre of the village for over 18 months. Every month, like a lot of other parishes, the Parish Council has reported a worsening situation to Oxfordshire County Council Highways. So this month the Parish Council resolved to highlight the problem so that OCC can’t continue to duck the issue.

“Parish councillors Helen Wright and Martin Lipson, aided by other villagers, floated 100 rubber ducks in the rain-filled potholes. Helen said “Despite our reporting that since the start of the year three residents had tripped in these holes and fallen, precisely nothing has been done.”

“Smiling drivers wound down their windows, braving the heavy rain, to ask what was going on, and passing local residents applauded. Woody Wright aged three said “I think the ducks like their new ponds”.

“After the ducks had been re-homed, Martin Lipson said “We can now only hope that OCC will finally do something to put into decent repair the main road through our village. This has gone on long enough.”

To read the Parish Council Chairman’s Annual Report in full, please click here.


“Quack Pot” protest over South Side potholes

Young Woody Wright had lots of fun playing with the 100 yellow ducks floating in the potholes on South Side.

But his mother, Parish Councillor Helen Wright, explained it was a serious attempt to get something done about the potholes which have been worrying villagers for nearly two years, causing at least three of them to trip and fall recently.

The idea started as a bit of a joke when Parish Council Chairman John Coley suggested in his Annual Report that the rash of holes had become so bad that the council might consider a “Quack Pots Day” where they would fill all the holes with water and float plastic ducks in the ponds.

Fellow councillor Martin Lipson happened to have several hundred plastic ducks in his basement (previously used for a children’s charity event). So on a very rainy Wednesday, 17th May he floated 100 of them in the potholes outside the Old White Lion.

Now councillors are hoping that the publicity generated by the ducks will prompt Oxfordshire County Council to finally mend the potholes.

In a press release sent to local media and to county councillor Arash Fatemian they said, “Drivers and pedestrians in South Side, Steeple Aston were astonished last Wednesday to find their much-loved potholes inhabited by one hundred bright yellow ducks.

“Villagers and others have had to negotiate this particularly bad stretch of potholes in the centre of the village for over 18 months. Every month, like a lot of other parishes, the Parish Council has reported a worsening situation to Oxfordshire County Council Highways. So this month the Parish Council resolved to highlight the problem so that OCC can’t continue to duck the issue.

“Parish councillors Helen Wright and Martin Lipson, aided by other villagers, floated 100 rubber ducks in the rain-filled potholes. Helen said “Despite our reporting that since the start of the year three residents had tripped in these holes and fallen, precisely nothing has been done.”

“Smiling drivers wound down their windows, braving the heavy rain, to ask what was going on, and passing local residents applauded. Woody Wright aged three said “I think the ducks like their new ponds”.

“After the ducks had been re-homed, Martin Lipson said “We can now only hope that OCC will finally do something to put into decent repair the main road through our village. This has gone on long enough.”

To read Parish Council Chairman’s Annual Report in full, please click here.


April

Parish Council opposes “One Oxfordshire” plan

Steeple Aston Parish Council has decided that it’s not in favour of the proposed unitary authority for “One Oxfordshire”, and would favour a more local set of arrangements.

The parish joins Cherwell and West Oxfordshire District Councils and Oxford City Council in opposing the plans. But despite this opposition, Oxfordshire County Council has already gone ahead with its proposal to disband all the area’s city and district councils and replace them with a single authority responsible for delivering all services.

It has already submitted the plan to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP, with the support of Oxfordshire’s two other district councils, South Oxfordshire and Vale of the White Horse.

They said: “We believe local government reorganisation is vital to protect council services as central government funding is reduced, and to secure the investment in infrastructure needed to support sustainable economic growth in Oxfordshire.

“It is expected that the government will make a final decision on our proposal later this year, but work is already underway to ensure all six councils work together effectively on delivering a new council for Oxfordshire in 2019.”

Leaders of the opposing councils have asked for an urgent meeting with the Secretary of State to discuss the plan before any decision is taken. They say that four of the county’s five MP’s oppose the plan and there is growing opposition among local residents and a concern about increases in council tax. They “want to avoid committing taxpayers’ money to commissioning further studies and analysis in response to the county’s proposals” given there is “no realistic chance of a consensus being achieved” between the city, district and county councils.

Edward Dowler, the Chairman of Middle Aston Parish Meeting, said he was strongly opposed to the plan in a letter to Steeple Aston Life. Now Steeple Aston Parish Council has joined the opposition and laid out its reasons in a letter to the Barry Wood, the Leader of Cherwell District Council, copied to local MP Victoria Prentis and local district councillors.

In his letter, Parish Council Chairman, John Coley makes several criticisms of the proposals including:

  • Lack of proper consultation, especially as the proposals have changed over time
  • Doubts over whether the revised proposals will achieve the “theoretical” savings claimed
  • No suggestion that the savings, if achieved, will result in better outcomes
  • With 15 or 20 areas now proposed, more power and control will end up in the centre
  • The enormous amount of work already done on the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan (and others) will be lost.

To read the full text of the letter, please click here.


Parish Council increase is less than a fiver a head

Parish Council Chairman John Coley writes: “The Parish Council has voted for an increase in the budget for the next Financial Year. The increase is £3,574, or £4.60 per elector over the whole year.  This is less than one portion of fish and chips from our mobile chippy, or two pints and a packet of crisps at the Red Lion.

“We have made the increase out of necessity rather than by choice. The government has postponed subjecting parish councils to budget restraint this year but is monitoring the reason for increases and has issued a challenge to parish councils to demonstrate restraint when increasing precepts that are not a direct result of taking on additional responsibilities and Government will monitor the sector’s response to the challenge. Just this week the minister made it clear parish precepts remains very much a priority, stressing he had not taken extending council tax referendums to parishes off the table.

“There are two main increases we could not absorb:

  • We are unlikely to receive any grant from the County Council (as we have in all years up to March 2016) towards cutting the grass verges within the village. We now must bear the full cost ourselves of around £4,000. If we don’t do it, grass would soon become overgrown, unkempt and possibly a danger for drivers’ sightlines.
  • Our Clerk, Cathy Fleet, has gained the Certificate in Local Council Administration, which automatically carries an increase in pay.

“Other increases have been agreed to meet costs cost we know we will incur in the year. Included is tree work in the Millennium Park (Play Area) identified by consultants to Dr Radcliffe’s Trust who own the land we lease from them.  Left undone we not only break our lease but may cause injury to those who use the Park.

“We have also donated £200 to the Bartons Bus project. This needs our support and will provide additional facilities to those who rely on public transport, and which takes passengers to Heyford rail station in the morning and picks up again at night. It has routes to Banbury, Oxford and Chipping Norton and is prepared to change routes based on projected requirements. The bus has wheelchair access and is available for private hire.

“Despite our efforts, increases outweigh savings we could make to keep Steeple Aston looking smart and well-tended, and a pleasant place in which to live.

“All your councillors are unpaid volunteers and only exceptionally claim expenses for attending meetings outside the village. They tend to meet their own travel costs, unless it is to a distant destination. I believe that parishioners get very good value for the money you are asked to pay to have your home in Steeple Aston.”  


March

Age UK pilots local Drop-in Information Sessions

A new pilot scheme by Age UK Oxfordshire will provide monthly drop-in information sessions for the first time in Steeple Aston.

Age UK Oxfordshire’s free information service aims to help people stay independent and live life to the full. Whether you need help at home, want to discover local activities in your area, find out about benefits, or get in touch with support services the Community Information Network can help.

From Wednesday, 29th March they will be holding monthly Information Sessions at the Sport & Recreation Centre in Steeple Aston. Older people, carers and adults with support needs are invited to drop in and meet local Community Networker, Libby Griffin.You will be able to browse the information table, pick up a range of helpful booklets, and ask any questions – no appointment is necessary. All are welcome; the kettle will be on!

The Information Sessions will be held on the last Wednesday of each month, from 2.00pm to 4.00pm at Sport & Recreation Centre, Fir Lane. For more details contact Libby Griffin on 07827 235410 or email libbygriffin@ageukoxfordshire.org.uk

Richard Preston, our Age UK Oxfordshire local-link adds: “Age UK Oxfordshire is not just about the elderly but offers support and advice to all those who have contact with the elderly. Our perception of ‘elderly’ is probably of someone who may have experienced the last world war or seems to have been around for ever but that is so far from the truth.

“Support for the elderly probably touches all of our lives at some point. It might be your parents who have now retired, the lady next door who appreciates the opportunity for a chat over the garden fence.  It might be that you know of someone who gives time to help someone of a certain age who needs some shopping done or wants a light bulb changed.  The reality is that you probably have some contact with ‘the elderly’ and maybe you could find out more ways of providing help.

“Steeple Aston is piloting a scheme where Age UK Oxfordshire is coming to you each month to provide useful support and advice on how we can all help our neighbours, relatives and friends and show what a caring society we live in today. Please call in and see what is available even if you are not classified as ‘elderly’.”

If you have a question but can’t get to an Information Session please call the Helpline on 0345 450 1276. For more information about Age UK in Oxfordshire, go to their website: www.ageuk.org.uk/Oxfordshire


Schoolkids video raises over £1K for Red Nose Day

Four years ago, a group of five-year-olds from Steeple Aston made a video to raise money for Red Nose Day. Now aged nine, they’ve done it again – and they’ve persuaded some grownups you might recognise to join in as well.

Last time they made £800 for the Comic Relief charity by making their own version of One Direction’s ‘One Way or Another’ music video. This year they’ve raised £1,064 by performing to Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’.

Both videos were made by Laura Jobe. The new one features children now in Class 4 at Dr Radcliffe’s School along with friends and family. They also persuaded their teacher Becky Roberts and Headteacher Frances Brown to take part, along with other locals such as Raj and Pari from the village shop.

For links to both videos, and, if you want to, donate to Comic Relief and help them reach their target, go to: http://www.justgiving.com/cantstopthefeelingforrednoseday


Mid-Cherwell Plan sent to the Examiner

The draft Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan has been sent for comments to an Independent Examiner before the start of the formal consultation process which will culminate in a referendum next year.

Following the Examiner’s report, it is expected to be sent to Cherwell District Council in early August. This date matters because as soon as Cherwell have a copy of the draft Plan they are obliged to take its recommendations into account.

Meanwhile villagers from across the Mid-Cherwell area are to be invited to an open meeting of the Neighbourhood Forum on Wednesday, 17th May at Ardley Village Hall. The Forum consists of a group of 40 people from the 11 Mid-Cherwell parishes, the Heyford Park Residents Association and the Heyford Park developer, the Dorchester Group.

In addition the eight-person Executive, chaired by Steeple Aston Parish Councillor Martin Lipson, has offered to visit all the 11 parishes and sit in on a Parish Council meeting in each place to answer questions from Councillors and the public.

In his monthly report, Parish Council Chairman John Coley explains more about the work being done to ensure the Plan is accepted.

He writes: “It was Proust who wrote “What we call our future is the shadow which our past throws in front of us.” So, this month I’m looking back and looking forward.  Everything we have done thus far, and the work we are doing now, will form part of our submission for a Neighbourhood Plan.  Increasingly developers are looking to appeal or go to court to challenge Neighbourhood Plans; so  we must take pains to make sure that what we in the Plan is clearly supported by good evidence, and where we choose between alternatives, we must show that we have applied the same weight to all options.  This is a daunting prospect for such a large geographical area.  It will take time as well as effort.

“One example is our determination to show that Mid-Cherwell has its own character, and should not treated just as a ‘standard development location. You may have seen a black bus (shades of the Magical Mystery Tour for those old enough to remember The Beatles’ 1967 album) going around villages one day last month.  This carried consultants and Forum representatives as they travelled round the Plan area and attempted to epitomise and define the ‘character’ of the various Parishes in the Plan.

“The whole ethos behind the Neighbourhood Plan is that neighbourhoods can decide where they would prefer development to take place; it is not so they can use a Plan to block all development – so not “Strawberry Fields Forever”.  We need to make sure our policies are not stating the obvious, or reinventing the wheel, and to this end we have begun a series of meetings inviting all those making Neighbourhood Plans in Cherwell to come together and swap ideas and policy wordings. This includes Bloxham which has already had its own Plan adopted.  It will be very handy to see what works, and what doesn’t.

“It also helps us to begin to work out the timescales for various consultations, based on actual time taken rather than on the time we think it should take (“Back to the Future” for someone who carried out Activity Based Costing!). Inevitably there can be significant variances which we can try to ease by having policies which are soundly researched and written.  The better our policies and wishes are described, the less the chance of them being challenged. Work done now will save time much later.”

To see the draft plan and find out more about the Forum, go to www.mid-cherwell.org.uk


February

Anna Allen joins the Parish Council

Steeple Aston’s newest parish councillor is Anna Allen, who was co-opted on to the council at its February meeting following the recent resignation of Bridie Mulcahy-Hawes.

Anna has lived in Grange Park, Steeple Aston for 25 years with her husband Andrew. Their children Antony (now 30) and Judy (28) went to Dr Radcliffe’s School.

With a Norwegian diplomat father and an English mother, Anna spent her childhood years travelling the world. But at the age of 18 she decided she wanted to make her future in Britain. She went to Bangor University to study marine science and it was there that she met Andrew, who had been seconded from the Royal Navy.

They ended up in Steeple Aston when Anna got a job with Pergamon Press, by then part of Reed Elsevier. She spent nine years there managing their environmental sciences programme. It was an exciting time to be involved in environmental issues, she says, and this is where she developed her interest in wildlife and the environment.

She left this job in 2000 to work in electronic publishing, joining an American dotcom company but working remotely in the Cherwell Innovation Centre at Upper Heyford. Here as the editorial director for The Scientific World she developed new ways of open access publishing peer reviewed scientific literature. Then after a spell working on pharmaceutical marketing she retired in 2013.

On retirement Anna thought she would continue to develop her technical interests and learnt how to build websites. But she decided she’d had enough of spending her days in front of a computer, and took up the offer of a gardening job. She started gardening just four hours a week, then she put an advert in Steeple Aston Life and was overwhelmed by offers of work. She now has two partners in Anna’s Garden Services, and they work with three other associates.

Anna says they have now worked in 50 gardens over an area from Bicester to Great Rollright. She finds gardening much more rewarding than the corporate world. “We meet wonderful people,” she said, “it’s a real privilege to work in such lovely gardens often with historic buildings, and we learn a lot from the garden owners.”

Anna is pretty busy in her spare time as well. Two years ago she founded the Steeple Aston Walking Group, now 35 strong. She is Treasurer of the Allotments Association and a keen beekeeper. She also helped set up the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan website and newsletter.

It was this experience which prompted her interest in local government, and eventually led to her application to join the parish council. “Since I retired,” she said, “I’ve got more involved in the community and got to know the village better. I’m very busy, but I like the idea of putting something back locally.”

Her main contribution, she thinks, will be her business experience and her knowledge of environmental issues. But she isn’t against development in the right place, and recognises the importance of providing more housing, especially to keep young people in the village

She will also take an interest in fostering small businesses locally, and hopes her marketing skills will be particularly useful to the council in helping it communicate better with villagers.


Grange Park residents await TPO verdict 

Residents of Grange Park who have objected to the imposition of individual tree preservation orders to replace the controversial and outdated area order on the estate are waiting for a response from Cherwell District Council.

The proposed new orders cover more than 40 trees. Following representations, the original deadline for objections was extended by a month to 12th January. Most of the residents of the 26 Grange Park properties affected who wanted to object were able to do so in that time.

In addition, the Grange Park Residents Group engaged a consultant, Peter Wharton of Wharton Tree and Ecology Consultants Ltd (www.whartontrees.co.uk) to assist them with their objections. He produced a very detailed and comprehensive objection letter which was submitted, on behalf of the residents group, to the Head of Law and Governance at Cherwell District Council before the deadline.

The letter made a clear case for rejecting the proposed TPOs on technical and legal grounds. As yet the residents have had no response to their objections, apart from an email acknowledgment that Peter Wharton’s letter was received and passed to the Arboricultural Department for consideration.

Cherwell District Council said previously that the TPO must be confirmed before the end of six months from when it was made otherwise it lapses. If there are objections then a report will be required to respond to the issues raised before the TPO can be confirmed in full or modified. The new TPO was issued on 14th November 2016, so there is some time to go before the six month deadline is reached.

To read the full text of the letter sent to CDC, please click here.


District starts petition against ‘One Oxfordshire’, parish yet to decide 

Steeple Aston Parish Council will decide at its March meeting whether to support or oppose the proposal to do away with a layer of local government to create ‘One Oxfordshire’.

This proposal from Oxfordshire County Council, which would do away with district and city councils, is aimed at saving money. But it is strongly rejected by Cherwell District and others. They have requested a meeting with the Secretary of State to put their case. Cherwell has also started a petition against the idea.

It argues that the district council is strong and financially sound . It has protected all frontline services without increasing the cost to residents. It says that plans for a unitary authority would mean local voices would be lost and that decisions affecting the district would be made by people at a county level, who would prioritise the needs of Oxfordshire over those of Cherwell.

Villagers in Middle Aston have been quicker off the mark than their Steeple colleagues. Edward Dowler, the Chairman of Middle Aston Parish Meeting, feels strongly in favour of Cherwell’s stance. He has signed the petition and forwarded the following message to many Middle Aston residents, who are thought to have signed the petition too.

On February 24th, Cllr Barry Wood, leader of Cherwell District Council sent out the following message:

“Earlier this month I wrote to you all to inform of you Oxfordshire County Council’s plans to disband the area’s city and district councils (including Cherwell) and replace them with a single unitary authority for all of Oxfordshire.

“At the time, I told you that Cherwell, Oxford City Council and West Oxfordshire District were united in their opposition to this. That still remains the case and earlier this week, we wrote to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid MP, to request a meeting before any decision is made. We are now awaiting a reply.

“In the meantime, Cherwell has set up a petition to stop the proposals from going ahead and since its launch last night more than 220 people have now signed it. I would encourage each of you to also show your support in opposing these proposals by adding your own name to the petition and encouraging friends and family to do the same. The signatures gathered will be used as evidence in our ongoing effort to protect the future of Cherwell District Council and services to our residents”.

As of March 10th there were over 1,100 signatories to the petition. If you would like to  add your signature, please go to https://www.change.org/p/stop-plans-for-a-unitary-authority-in-Oxfordshire


Governors consult on academy status for village school

The Governors of Dr Radcliffe’s Primary School in Steeple Aston are consulting with parents, staff and others on the conversion of the school to academy status as part of the Oxford Diocesan Schools Trust (ODST).

Parents and carers were invited to meet with representatives of the Trust, governors and the school’s leadership team on Tuesday,17th January. This meeting formed part of a period of open consultation during which governors are seeking the views of staff, parents/carers, Church and community representatives and the children.The consultation is expected to end on 4th February.

Chair of the Governors, Lise Boote wrote to parents: “The Governors consider that becoming an academy as part of ODST will bring many advantages to Dr Radcliffe’s School. It will support us in our continued journey of improvement with access to high quality school improvement services; it will help us ensure that the ethos and values at the core of our school will remain intact; it will give staff and governors more freedom of choice about how the school develops and we believe it will help us to better withstand educational changes at a national level.”

She said that in practical terms academy status will change some things behind the scenes. The Governors feel these changes will enhance the running of the school but otherwise parents and children will see very little difference. There will be no impact on the curriculum or admissions policy. The Governors will continue to work closely with the Diocese, the Local Authority, the schools in The Warriner Partnership and other local primary schools who have converted to academy with ODST. There will be no change to the name of the school, the school uniform or term dates.

ODST is a not for profit organisation set up by the Diocese of Oxford in 2012. Dedicated to providing excellence in education, it allows schools to develop and share best practice and work in support of one another whilst benefiting from central support services. There are currently eighteen primary schools working with ODST and it is planning to expand this to around 30 schools over the next year.

To see the full consultation document and other information, go to the school website www.dr-radcliffes.org.uk and look under Key Information.

For more information about ODST, go to their website www.odst.org.uk.


Extra policies and local green space added to Mid-Cherwell Plan 

Following recent public consultation on the Mid-Cherwell Development Plan, new policies on light pollution, protection of trees and hedgerows and adequacy of technical infrastructure have been added to the list.

And a new timetable will now allow for a further period of public consultation from 30th April to June 9th before the plan is submitted to Cherwell District Council. And members of the public will be invited to attend a meeting of the Forum on May 17th. If all goes well, there will be a referendum on the final plan in February next year.

Meanwhile, after a heated discussion at February’s Parish Council meeting, it was decided that the old sandpit behind the houses to the west of Grange Park should be proposed for designation as an additional “Local Green Space” in the village.

Local green spaces are those areas which benefit the local community because of their recreational value, beauty, tranquillity, historic significance or richness of wildlife. The designation, if finally approved, does not depend on agreement by the landowner.

In his monthly report, Parish Council Chairman John Coley writes: “During January over 300 people braved the weather to show their support for the Neighbourhood Plan and to ask many questions. Most of these were answered on the spot by Forum members, and all of them will influence the policies and the Plan document that is now being reviewed.

“Traffic-related issues were most commonly raised with concerns about speeding, increasing volumes of traffic – especially HGVs on country lanes, and the need for more bus services. Our Traffic and Transport working group has been gathering proposals from each of our parishes to develop an overall traffic mitigation scheme that can be included in our draft Plan. This will need to be successfully negotiated with CDC, OCC and major developers at Heyford Park if it is to have the desired effect.

“Ideas put forward at these events for additional Plan policies will be considered at the March Forum meeting. There has already been wide support for a new “dark skies” policy controlling light pollution – particularly from street lights in new developments.  Others might be to control the loss of existing trees and hedgerows, together with other biodiversity-related policy: a further new policy would seek to protect important views in and across the neighbourhood.

“Some of our policies seek to protect the traditional rural character of the villages and the whole neighbourhood. To have real effect, the rather elusive concept of “character” needs careful definition, and to that end MCNP has received Government support to commission consultants AECOM to carry out a “Heritage and Character Assessment” of the Plan area. This is now under way. This document, when completed, will be an important plank of “evidence” supporting our policies. Parish councillors and local historians have been gathering relevant documents which detail the heritage and the history of our villages, which AECOM will use as a foundation for their recommendations.”

To see the revised proposals, please click here

For more information about the Forum, go to their website: www.mid-cherwell.org.uk


January

Villagers examine Neighbourhood Plan policies

Steeple Aston residents had the chance to examine detailed proposals from the Mid-Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan Forum at a meeting in the Village Hall on January 24th.

The meeting was one of several held during the month so that residents of the 11 villages included in the plan could have their say on the policy proposals before they are presented to Cherwell District Council, hopefully in April.

Steeple Aston Parish Councillor and Chair of the Forum Martin Lipson told the meeting that the aim of the plan was to restrict development to within designated areas in order to enable the villages and the landscape to retain their historic character.

In addition to these policies, the Forum has developed a Community Action Plan to move forward with issues that are not strictly part of the planning remit, such as requiring utility providers to improve their services in the area.

After submission to the district council, the plan will be sent to an independent examiner who may require changes before a referendum can take place. It is hoped that the process will be completed by the end of the year.

In his monthly bulletin on the progress of the Plan, Parish Council Chairman, John Coley writes: “We can look forward to 2017 as the year in which all our work on MCNP comes to fruition. As you know, we are starting the year with community engagement meetings. They will tell us, after all our drafting and discussions, whether any of the policies need adjustment to meet with your approval.

“Local Green Spaces have been nominated by many of our parish councils and these will now go into the Plan. These will add extra protection from development to valued community spaces.

“We have been instrumental in setting up a group meeting for all those Cherwell parishes who are in the process of forming Neighbourhood Plans (Cherwell District Council having declined to set this up). The first meeting to share experiences and knowledge gained will be “in the middle of February.

“The Plan Forum has received Government funding to commission a consultancy firm to undertake a Heritage and Character Assessment of all the larger settlements in the neighbourhood area (and their surroundings). The report will sit alongside our policies to make sure that future development fits in with the special ambience (lovely word, that) and history of our part of Oxfordshire. This will take place over the next few weeks, ready to go into the Plan Report.”

To see the draft policies proposed, and the Community Action Plan, please click here

For more information about the Forum, go to their website: www.mid-cherwell.org.uk


Draft planning policies published before community meetings

Draft policies produced by the Mid Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan Forum have been published in advance of a series of community engagement meetings to be held during January. Villagers should have already received a leaflet summarising the policies and inviting them to a meeting to discuss them.

The Steeple Aston meeting will be on Tuesday, January 24th at 7.30pm in the Village Hall. But if that date isn’t convenient, you are welcome to attend any of the other meetings listed below.

Steeple Aston Parish Council Chairman, John Coley writes: “All 24 draft policies have now been published, and community engagement meetings in January 2017 have been announced. You should have a leaflet summarising the policies together with a lot of additional information, and you can see the full policies on www.mid-cherwell.org.uk

“In January, we will be holding our final round of community engagement meetings. At each of the events below there will be a display of the final draft Policies of the Neighbourhood Plan, together with maps showing the proposed Settlement Areas and nominations for Local Green Spaces that our parish councils want to see incorporated in the Plan.

“There will also be opportunities for discussion with members of the Neighbourhood Plan Forum representing your community, and a question and answer session. Each meeting will cover the same neighbourhood-wide agenda for all 11 parishes, so you are welcome to attend whichever is most convenient.

Saturday, 14th January        2.00 – 4.00pm, Reading Room, Upper Heyford

Sunday, 22nd January         10.00am – 12.00pm, Village Hall, Ardley

Tuesday 24th January          7.30 – 9.00pm, Village Hall, Steeple Aston

Wednesday, 25th January    7.00 – 9.00pm, Nicholson Orchard Barn, North Aston

Thursday 26th January        7.00 – 8.30pm, Village Hall, Somerton

Saturday, 28th January        10.00am – 12.00pm, St. Mary’s Church, Lower Heyford

Saturday, 28th January        10.00am – 1.00pm at Heyford Park Community Centre

Saturday, 28th January        3.00 – 5.00pm, Village Hall, Kirtlington

Monday, 30th January         7.30 – 9.00pm, Village Hall, Fritwell

“We have had wide-ranging meetings with Cherwell District Council to persuade them of the need for certain policies and to ensure that they all comply with national and local planning legislation. After the January meetings, MCNP has to make the full draft Plan document publicly available, in the run-up to formal submission in the Spring.”

If you aren’t able to attend a meeting, you can still read the policies and leave your comments on the Forum’s website www.mid-cherwell.org.uk