Manea Parish Council Chairman’s report 2020-22
Reflecting the very strange times we have experienced, my first Chairman’s report covers not one, but three years! Where has that time gone?
I would like to start by drawing attention to some of the quiet work that this group of Councillors have done, not flashy, but vital to the smooth running of our parish.
I would like to give my thanks on behalf of parishioners to all Councillors, who have, during this unprecedented period, quietly got on with dealing with day-to-day issues such as broken or damaged equipment at the playing field, pavilion, cemetery, and pit, fallen and damaged trees, loose of missing manhole covers, damaged roads, pavements and streetlights (the last three, not so quietly)!
During the height of the pandemic, Councillors, and particularly Jan our Vice Chair, were very much involved in supporting parishioners to access prescriptions and shopping as well as being an ear to those who needed to feel connected with the outside world.
New skills had to be learned – who can forget our first few online meetings and, we had to adapt to the changes wrought as resources from across local government disappeared overnight as everyone focused on the fight against Corona.
If that was not challenging enough, we then had three Countywide flooding events that resulted in some very frantic late-night hands-on emergency response, followed by ongoing support for residents that culminatedg with a village wide meeting hosted by Charlie at the village hall. This work remains ongoing as Charlie works with other councils and authorities across the County to identify and mitigate the root causes of the flooding.
Despite all the above, this the Parish Councillors, brilliantly supported by Alan, Malcolm and Alma have managed not only to maintain our community assets but build and improve on them.
Playing Field, Pit and Orchard
It is a reflection on all the hard work undertaken by Councillors that our last two ROSPA reports for the Playing Field have been extremely good. We have open spaces that are admired by people from all around the local county who openly comment on how wonderful the Pit, Skatepark and Playing Field are. I know, and appreciate, the amount of work that all, but particularly the Link Councillors, Alan and Malcolm put in to keep these areas well maintained
The Skatepark was probably the single largest expenditure by this Council so far. The project ran very smoothly and was delivered on time and to budget. It is a fantastic asset and well used by our younger community.
Safety matting has been laid around all the play equipment.
The MUGA is being well used and continues to be a great local asset.
A big part of the role of our Parish Council is to support and enable local groups and clubs to thrive. The Parish Council hosted an evening to thank and celebrate local groups in the Village and awarded approx. £2,000 in seed money to help groups grow. We are saddened that so many groups closed during the pandemic but are hopeful that as time goes by, new groups will start that we can help.
Ben, Steve and David have built a great relationship with the Junior and Senior Football teams who, through working in partnership, have been able to secure significant funding from the Football Association to purchase equipment, materials and expertise used to help maintain the fields to a good standard.
The field remains at the heart of the village, and we are excited to be supporting the first Manea Gala in 3 years and the various activities they have organised for the Platinum Jubilee celebrations.
We are also delighted to be working in partnership with local Guides, Brownies, Cubs and Scout groups to help them build on and enhance, their use of our open spaces.
The Pit and Orchard area go from strength to strength and continues to be well used by many different user groups. Barrie, Steve, David and Mark work hard to maintain the lovely environment and have improved accessibility for all by altering the gates, laying new chippings on footpaths, maintaining access to the swims and removing damaged trees. The area has been further enhanced with new notice and information boards, the siting of over 40 bird and bat boxes and the planting of spring bulbs. We have also undertaken a significant investment in producing a tree management plan for the woodlands surrounding the pit and all our open spaces and, we now have and are working through a 3-year plan of identified trees that need removal or remedial work.
Maintenance work has been undertaken at the Cemetery by Steve and Barrie who have overseen the repair and repainting of the fence and gates. They also went above and beyond (or should I say below and beyond) to ensure that the potential drainage issues we faced two years ago did not become a disaster. David is working with Alan to arrange the widening of the pathways and access to new plots and Mark is working with our new tree contractors to manage the trees within that area.
What a challenge this was! This project alone demonstrated the resilience and tenacity of this group of Councillors to get it to the finish line. No one anticipated the technical challenges in retrofitting bus shelters into an older village that does not lend itself to comply with current H and S requirements, let alone the impact of Corona when working with CCC and Installation companies. Barry C, supported by Alan, worked tirelessly to make this project a reality and despite all the challenges they had to overcome, we now have 6 bus shelters that fit well into their respective landscapes and our great community assets.
Trains and pending train carpark
This council picked up the mantle to continue to lobby for better access to trains and a station carpark. Steve, and previous Councillors, had been working on this over many years and Jan C joined him in this effort. Jan worked tirelessly during the Pandemic to lobby the train providers to offer alternative transport and to make parishioners aware of their rights (such as taxis if trains were cancelled). Despite all the disruption faced we have, during this Council, seen the introduction of a weekend service and have heavily influenced the design of the ongoing current project to building a carpark. We hope that the carpark will encourage more footfall from surrounding villages that will translate to additional services so that Manea Parishioners will have the ability to travel out of the area for work, educational and leisure activities.
As we move into the last year of our term, we have several projects that are ongoing or pending. Probably the biggest project ever to be undertaken by this Parish is the replacement of the existing pavilion that was built in 1976. The pavilion has more than served its time but now needs to be upgraded to a facility that meets the needs of this ever-expanding village. We are still in the early stages of a comprehensive action plan, but I am quietly confident that a new building can be achieved early on within the next Council.
Charlie, Jan and Alan continue to work on improving the roads, pavements and streetlights throughout the village. Due to their efforts, we have seen significant expenditure on two of the access roads into the village and on roads within the village. This work will always be ongoing.
We are also now planning how to upgrade and replace many of streetlights that we inherited a few years ago from the District Council. This will need a large Capital investment that will be undertaken over a period of years.
Ben has been working closely with the relevant stakeholders to help facilitate the siting of a phone mast in the village. We recognise that this is strategic infrastructure needed to ensure that the village continues to thrive.
Mark continues to liaise regularly with CCC to ensure that our footpaths are maintained.
Unfortunately, we have a couple of projects that have ground to a halt through no fault of the Parish Council.
Despite providing funding and our best efforts to advertise this opportunity no-one applied for the paid role of a Crossing Assistant at the school, and we continue to seek a volunteer to Co-ordinate the Speedwatch group.
As I started to write this update, I googled the ‘role of a Parish Council’ and found the following answer:
‘A parish council is a local authority that makes decisions on behalf of the people in the parish and has an overall responsibility for the well-being of its local community. It is the level of government closest to the community… ‘
I think that this is a straightforward answer to the question but does not really communicate the level of commitment or work required to successfully achieve this aim, particularly in an environment of ever-increasing legislation and regulations.
A significant part of our role is to ensure that we adhere to those requirements and can demonstrate that we utilise the precept wisely. A lot of work has gone into ensuring that we can do this by reviewing and improving processes and procedures (particularly in relation to awarding grant funding and seed money – thank you Barry C). We have also invested in an online bookkeeping system that allows us to plan and monitor our expenditure and have moved most transactions to online payments via BACS. We have also upgraded our website and noticeboards to improve communication with parishioners.
Councillors and Clerks nowadays must juggle so many competing priorities in an environment where resources from Districts, County and Central Governments continue to diminish and where we try to fill the gaps.
We in Manea wrangle with trying to maintain a balance between protecting the cultural and historic heritage of the village, whilst ensuring that parishioners are not left behind those in more urban areas with particular regards access to housing, education, work and leisure activities.
When I first became Chair Alan kindly brought over several boxes of historic documents for me to review. Amongst those was the minutes of the first ever Parish Council meeting over 100 years ago. It struck me how 100 years later we are still talking about the same issues – land, housing and helping the community to survive and thrive. I expect in another 100 years the same items will still be on the monthly agendas.
I would like to conclude this 3-year Chairman’s report by once again thanking Councillors, Alan our Clerk, Malcolm, Alma and the contractors we employ and our volunteer, and local community group leaders, for all the work that they have, and continue to undertake on behalf of the parish of Manea.