Community Orchard holds first Big Green Event

visitors to event

Steeple Aston’s Community Orchard held a Family Open Day as part of The Great Big Green Week – a celebration of community action to tackle climate change and protect nature.

Village families were invited to come to the orchard in Water Lane on the afternoon of Saturday, 8th June, and plenty of them turned up to enjoy one of the few dry and sunny days so far this year.

The orchard, which opened in 2022 on land donated by former village resident Sarah Lucas ,is open to the public every day, but on this special day there were lots of activities laid on especially for children.

Nigel Francis, one of the organisers writes:

It was great to see so many families turn up to the orchard last weekend as we took part in the UK’s Big Green Week.

Children pond dipped, looked at the beehive, did painting and drawing. We also had a nature trail and a reading area along with seed planting,

Not forgetting tea and cakes for all!

Thank you again to all volunteers for helping and of course all the families who made the day so special.

To see lots of more Nigel’s lovely photos, go to the Photo Gallery. Click on the first photo to enlarge, then navigate using the arrows.


Garden visitors raise funds for charity

Open garden

Six Steeple Aston gardens and the Church Allotments were open to the public on Sunday, 2nd June, raising well over £2,000 for charity.

Organiser Richard Preston reports:

On a sunny Sunday afternoon, visitors descended on Steeple Aston to view the six gardens and allotments open to the public under the National Garden Scheme (NGS)

For once this year, it was a pleasant, afternoon with the sun shining and temperatures close on 20 degrees centigrade. Nearly 300 paying visitors walked around the gardens and then visited the Village Hall for one of the, by now, famous teas served by a team of volunteers led, as ever by Barbara Brewer.

The outcome was a donation of £2,300 to the NGS which in turn supports so many worthwhile charities so thankyou to all who supported this event, by either walking around the gardens, helping at the village hall or making a cake.

For us gardeners and allotment holders, it focuses our mind on the garden, hoping to make it look as good as it possibly can and removing a few weeds that otherwise might have survived for a week or so longer.

For the visitors, it provides somewhere to go on a Sunday afternoon at little cost and encourages visitors to relax and take in the countryside.  It also promotes our village which we might take for granted. One visitor actually enquired as to property availability here as she thought this was the perfect village. Everyone was so pleasant and helpful so what a wonderful place to live.

From all us gardeners and tea makers, thank you for your support and if you would like to be involved next year by opening your garden, give me a call on 01869 340512.

Thank-you and best wishes,

Richard, Daphne and all the open gardens in this wonderful village of Steeple Aston

Barbara Brewer, Chair of the Village Hall committee added, “On behalf of the Village Hall Committee a very big “Thank You” to all those who provided cakes, served teas, took money, washed and dried crockery and helped clear up at the end of the day to make this event such a great success.

“This year – as in previous years – we were able to make a generous contribution to aid Macmillan Nurses and other charities. This could not have happened without your help and generosity.”

For more photos from Nigel Francis, go to the Photo Gallery. Click on the first photo to enlarge, then navigate using the arrows.


We’re Banbury, not Bicester in constituency confusion

With the general election due on 4th July, villagers – and others – have been confused about which parliamentary constituency the voters of Steeple and Middle Aston are in.

Many presumed that we would be included in the newly created constituency of Bicester and Woodstock. Indeed, the Conservative group in the new constituency seem to think that’s the case as they’ve been leafletting the village promoting their candidate, Rupert Harrison.

However, the boundary map of the new constituencies shows that Steeple and Middle Aston remain in the Banbury constituency. The two villages are in the Deddington ward. 

The new Banbury constituency includes just 60.4% of the old constituency’s population. It has lost Bicester to the new Bicester and Woodstock constituency but gained Chipping Norton and Charlbury and surrounding villages from the Witney constituency.

It looks like the election in this constituency will be more closely fought than usual, with every vote counting. The Banbury seat has elected a Conservative MP since 1922. But recent analysis of the new constituency makes it one of the most marginal seats in the United Kingdom.  According to an analysis published by Politico in February, it’s  among the most likely to change from being a Conservative seat to Labour. More recent surveys, for example the YouGov MRP survey reported on 4th June,  have confirmed this analysis.

Victoria Prentis, the current Attorney General and North Oxfordshire MP since 2015, is standing again as the Consertive candidate for Banbury. The Labour candidate is Sean Woodcock, Leader of the Labour Group on Cherwell District Council. Liz Adams is the candidate for the Liberal Democrats. Nominations closed on Friday, 7 th June.

There are eight candidates in total. In alphabetical order, they are:

Liz Adams Liberal Democrat

Arron Baker Green Party

Cassi Bellingham Independent

Chris Nevile Climate Party

Victoria Prentis Conservative Party

Declan Soper Social Democratic Party

Paul Topley Reform UK

Sean Woodcock  Labour Party

Voting will take place on Thursday, 4th July in Steeple Aston Village Hall. Counting will take place overnight, so the result will be announced on Friday, 5th July. For more information about registering to vote, proxy and postal voting etc, see the Cherwell website. 


Conservatives elected in local voting

Villagers in Steeple and Middle Aston had two votes to cast in the local elections on May 2nd. They were voting for one councillor for Cherwell District Council and for the Police and Crime Commissioner for the Thames Valley.

In both cases the Tories prevailed. In the Deddington ward of Cherwell District Council, David Rogers, a former chairman of Deddington Parish Council, won the seat for the first time. He replaces Bryn Williams who didn’t stand again this year.

Mr Rogers won 1,244 votes beating Labour’s Annette Murphy by 303 votes. The turnout was 38 per cent.

However, across the rest of Cherwell District the picture was quite different with the Conservatives losing nine seats in all. The council remains with no overall control, but the Liberal Democrats strengthened their position. They took seven wards from the Conservatives and are now the biggest party with 17 seats. Labour and the Greens gained one seat each. 

There are 48 seats on the council in total and the political make-up of the council is now as follows: Conservative – 11, Green – 4, Independent – 3, Labour – 13 and Liberal Democrat – 17.

Conservative Matthew Barber was re-elected as the Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner.  He won 144,092 votes across Buckinghamshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire. He had a narrow majority of 2,300 over Labour’s Tim Starkey, who finished second with 141,749. The turnout was 25 per cent.

Mr Barber promised to put more police officers on the streets and to prioritise tackling rape and sexual offences, domestic abuse, the night time economy, serious violence and abuse and exploitation.

See the full election results below:

Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner

Mathew David Barber, Conservative Candidate – More Police, Safer Streets 144,092
Tim Starkey, Labour and Co-operative Party; 141,749
Tim Bearder, Liberal Democrats 84,341
Ben Holden-Crowther, Police Officers for Thames Valley 46,853

Cherwell District Council – Deddington Ward

David Owen Rogers, Conservative, 1244
Annette Murphy, Labour, 941
James Hartley, Liberal Democrats, 357
Aaron James Bliss, Green, 296


Community Land Trust about to be set up

A Community Land Trust is going to be set up in the village following a public meeting on 10th April.

Julia Whybrew reports:

The meeting was organised to see if there is support for starting a Community Land Trust (CLT) here.  It started with a brief description of what a CLT would involve:

  • It would be a community led and not for profit organisation
  • It would further housing, social and economic activities in the village
  • The activities would be focussed around the provision of affordable, energy efficient housing for locals in need.
  • But its activities will not be confined to housing. There will be wider objectives such as protecting green spaces and developing shared, renewable energy projects
  • The CLT will be a legal entity which can draw on Government funding for local housing and raise money in its own right.

A CLT needs the money to become incorporated as a legal entity before it can start operating.  The Parish Council and Dr Radcliffe’s Trust have agreed to put up £350 each if the meeting decided to go ahead with a CLT.  There will be a nominal fee, either a £1 or £5 per household to become a member.  It will be for the CLT board to decide the charge and the sooner we get incorporated the sooner the CLT can start work.

Someone reminded us about what happened when Cherwell District Council was left to allocate any new housing.  CDC claim they took local connections into account when allocating houses in Coneygar Fields and Shepherd’s Hill.  But they regard local connections as much wider than we do, so an important part of CLT activities will be to negotiate with Cherwell to tighten the definition of local.

One of the most successful CLTs in this area is at Hook Norton.  Cathy Ryan, the chair of Hook Norton Community Land Trust, told us about what they have achieved at Hook Norton and which elements of their activities she saw as the most effective.  Hook Norton CLT was set up in 2019.  It has taken them till now to get their first house built.  In the same period developers have built 250 houses there with the aim of maximising their profits; without any consultation with locals.  The new homes have not helped the many locals who have been priced out of living where they were brought up.

Hook Norton CLT found some derelict and oddly shaped parcels of land owned by Cherwell District Council and negotiated with them to buy the sites. The CLT asked residents directly, and held workshops to find out what locals wanted.  The main answer was that the heart would be lost from their village if there was no genuinely affordable and sustainable housing for locals.  They also wanted things such as zero carbon construction, shared renewable energy generation, electric bikes for hire, electrical charging points and shared bookable facilities for visitors.

Hook Norton held a CLT open day to get comments before putting in for planning permission and Cathy told us she thought this had been very successful in obtaining local buy-in to the project.  The Hook Norton CLT has built eight houses costing £3.7 million of which they raised all but £500,000 commercially.  The difference was made up from local investors who are expecting a return on their investment which will vary according to how long the investors are prepared to tie up their money for.  A huge thank you to Cathy for talking to us.

After Cathy’s talk we split into groups and discussed the advantages and possible pitfalls of setting up a CLT.  The questions that came back from the groups included such issues as what does being a member of a CLT involve?  The answer was that shareholders have no liability, but they would get a newsletter and be invited to the AGM where they can question policy and vote for their preferred board members and on policy issues. 

At the end of the meeting there was a convincing show of hands in favour of setting up a CLT.  So the CLT Steering Group will get our CLT incorporated, be in touch with those who came to the meeting and hold a membership drive.

Current members of the steering group are Martin Lipson, Paul Rogers, Alan Stubbersfield, Charlotte Powell and Julia. New members would be very welcome. If you would like to know more, but could not get to the meeting, please contact steepleastonclt@gmail.com 


Heyford Park request slows progress on revised Neighbourhood Plan

The Mid Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan Forum has published an update after the recent consultation with villagers across the neighbourhood. They are working on revising the plan taking in to account the views expressed.

However, progress may be stalled by the desire of Heyford Park Parish Council to leave the forum and create their own separate neighbourhood plan. An initial decision on this will be taken by Cherwell District Council on June 10th.

The message from the MCNP Forum says :

First, many thanks once again to all those who engaged with our recent Consultation on the review of the Neighbourhood Plan. We had a great response:

– 176 people submitted comments
– 662 comments in total were received
– 245 people attended one or more of our ten local engagement meetings

The Forum parish councils are now completing the process of reading all the comments and taking on board the many constructive suggestions for changes to our draft policies, as well as objections to some of them. We also have the preliminary views of various statutory bodies and Cherwell District planners to take into account. 

The next step is to produce a further iteration of the Plan, together with a detailed record of all the representations received (anonymised) and our response to them. Following submission to Cherwell DC, they will conduct a further public consultation on the basis of those documents. This will probably be in the Summer of 2024.

Heyford Park Parish Council

In November 2023, Heyford Park PC told the MCNP Forum that it wished to resign membership of the Forum. It was planning to create its own separate neighbourhood plan for Heyford Park, and subsequently applied to Cherwell DC to have the parish designated as a “neighbourhood area”. This is the first step of many that are needed to create a new neighbourhood plan. It took the MCNP over four years to do so.

No decision has yet been taken by Cherwell following their consultation on the application. In response, the Forum submitted a 19-point objection to Heyford Park’s proposal. We do not think it will serve the best interests of the local communities. We understand that the initial decision will be taken by Cherwell’s Executive at its meeting on June 10th.

In the meantime, Cherwell planners have told us that they will not progress any submission of our Revised Plan, due to the uncertainty of the outcome of the Heyford Park designation. Our work on the Plan is proceeding, but submission is therefore delayed until after the June meeting.

Dorchester’s ambitious plans for Heyford Park

Plan

Dorchester Living, owners of Heyford Park, delivered a presentation in February to Forum members and others of their long-term vision for Heyford Park. The aim is to pre-empt planning policy for this important strategic site by forcing Cherwell DC to determine Dorchester’s proposed submission of their new “masterplan” for planning permission this summer (a presentation plan is shown above). A refusal will likely trigger an appeal.

It is a very ambitious proposal, taking in large areas of the historic Flying Field as well as 250 acres of greenfield land to the south of the current development. The original permission at Heyford Park was for 1,075 new dwellings. The latest version is for 6,000 more homes – virtually a six-fold increase. While Dorchester suggest that much of the development would not start until 2040, it is nevertheless the aim to secure the long-term plan now, so that infrastructure improvements (such as the idea of re-opening a railway station at Ardley) can be promoted.

A central objective of the MCNP has always been to avoid the loss of countryside and damage to the rural setting of our villages. The Forum has already expressed its opposition to building on greenfield land adjacent to Heyford Park, and has serious concerns about the scale of Dorchester’s greatly increased ambitions for the town, not least because of the impact of traffic on our country lanes. We hope to be able to maintain constructive discussions with Dorchester Living, and will keep you informed on this important issue. 


 

Parish Council tax increase explained 

On behalf of the Parish Council, Mat Watson writes:

Steeple Aston Parish Council has increased its council tax bill by 8.7 per cent compared to last year. The total cost, which is known as the Precept, has risen from £33,934 in 23/24 to £36,893 for 24/25. That means of a total £2,327.84 annual council tax bill for a property in Band D, the amount relating to the Parish Council will be £84.50. This works out to just £7.04 a month which is an increase of 56p per compared to last year. So less than a pint of milk. 

By comparison, some other large villages in the region have seen more significant rises. Adderbury’s Parish Precept has gone up 25 per cent while Launton has had an increase of almost 30 per cent. However, some places, like Hook Norton and Heyford Park, have had no rise at all. 

So what has caused the £2,959 increase in Steeple Aston’s Parish Precept? There have been three key elements. The first is an increase in the insurance premium for public liability. This has gone up from a budgeted £3,500 last year to £4,000 for 24/25. Another relates to new costs for 24/25 associated with the Mid Cherwell Neighbourhood Plan for £869. However, the most significant single increase is £2,000 which is for a grant the Parish Council has decided to make to Steeple Aston Preschool to fund part of its plans to renovate its ageing outdoor play area. It was deemed worthy due to the importance of the Preschool as a village asset and the benefit it brings to the community.

But while some costs have had a budgeted increase, some have actually decreased. For example, grass cutting has been reduced from £3,000 to £2,500 due to hotter weather last year resulting in less grass growth.  Most maintenance costs have remained the same, though, including the largest single cost – cleaning the village toilet and tidying the playground. This remains at £9,500, which is pretty much a quarter of the entire budget. The playground was built using grant money won thanks to a fundraising campaign led by Richard Preston. However, there are no grants available to pay for tidying the playground nor cleaning of the toilet, so the Parish Council funds this through the Precept. 

Anyone with small children, such as myself, will agree the toilet is a really useful facility. But it’s a disproportionately expensive one, especially for village residents who never use it. As a result, it has been the subject of several debates at various Parish Council meetings with some suggestions to introduce a pay-to-use system for the toilet or to ask people to make donations with their mobile phones via a QR code system whenever they visit the playground, especially as it is regularly used by people who don’t actually live in Steeple Aston. So far, the Parish Council has preferred to stick with the current method of funding cleaning the facilities through council tax. But this regular revaluation does show how the council is committed to ensuring residents get the best value for their money. 

And it does everything it can to keep costs down. 

For instance, a lot of work – such as tidying in the village, simple maintenance or organising events – is done on a volunteer basis and of course the Parish Councillors themselves don’t get paid. The only person who is paid for their time is the Parish Council Clerk, who is employed to manage and run the Council’s affairs. Their salary is linked to inflation and the cost has been budgeted at £4,500. 

For further information and a breakdown of the costs please view www.steepleaston.org.uk/finance and email any feedback to parishclerk.steepleaston@gmail.com