Baldock and District Committee Minutes

Date:
Monday, 9th September, 2013
Time:
7.30pm
Place:
Baldock Community Centre, Simpson Drive, Baldock
 
 

Attendance Details

Present:
Councillor I.J. Knighton (Chairman), Councillor M.E. Weeks (Vice-Chairman), Councillor John Harris, Councillor S.K. Jarvis, Councillor M.R.M. Muir and Councillor A.D. Young.
In attendance:
Andrew Godman (Head of Housing and Public Protection Service)
Mary Caldwell (Development and Conservation Manager)
David Charlton (Senior Estates Surveyor)
Christopher Robson (Graduate Estates Surveyor)
Ashley Hawkins (Community Development Officer)
Susanne Gow (Committee and Member Services Officer)
Also Present:
Att commencement of the meeting, 10 members of the public, including speakers for Public Participation.
Item Description/Decision
PART I
22 APOLOGIES FOR ABSENCE
There were no apologies for absence at this meeting.
23 MINUTES
RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the Meeting held on 15 July 2013 be approved as a true record of the proceedings and be signed by the Chairman.
24 NOTIFICATION OF OTHER BUSINESS
No other business was raised for discussion at this Committee Meeting.
25 CHAIRMAN'S ANNOUNCEMENTS
(1) The Chairman welcomed everyone to the meeting including the speakers for Public Participation, Members and NHDC officers;

(2) He announced that he had agreed, using his discretionary powers, that Mr Christopher Pack could present a petition of 454 signatures for the chimes of the bells to be retained at St Mary’s Church in Ashwell. They currently rang every 15 minutes, 24 hours per day. Mr Pack would address the Baldock and District Committee under Public Participation;

(3) In addition, he had agreed that Mr Guy Reed could put the case for the chimes at St Mary’s Church, Ashwell, being silent at night. Both speakers would be kept strictly to 5 minutes’ presentation time;

(4) The Chairman then proposed that the final speaker under Public Participation, Murray Fastier, be requested to speak after Item 6 and before Item 7, to which he agreed;

(5) Members were informed that there would be no NHDC officer present for the report on Provision of Equipment for Voluntary Organisations, compiled by the Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management;

Finally, the Chairman reminded Members that any declarations of interest in respect of any business set out in the agenda, should be declared as either a Disclosable Pecuniary interest or Declarable Interest and they are required to notify the Chairman of the nature of any interest declared at the commencement of the relevant item on the agenda. Members declaring a Disclosable Pecuniary Interest must withdraw from the meeting for the duration of the item. Members declaring a Declarable Interest which requires they leave the room under Paragraph 7.4 of the Code of Conduct, can speak on the item, but must leave the room before the debate and vote.
26 PUBLIC PARTICIPATION
(1) The Chairman invited Christopher Pack to present the petition and address the Baldock and District Committee on the subject of retention of all the chimes of St Mary’s Church, Ashwell. Mr Pack explained that St Mary’s clock chimed for 24 hours per day. Unlike some other churches, the clock and bells were controlled by the Parish Council, not the Parochial Church Council. The Parish Clerk had asked residents whether they wanted the bells turned off between the hours of 11pm and 7am, which would be done if there were complaints about the chimes. Mr Pack revealed that the petition consisted of 454 names, but that 590 Ashwell residents had expressed the desire for the bells to continue as they are, including those who had commented on the dedicated Facebook page. Mr Pack said that several elderly people who did not have recourse to Facebook had informed him that they were in favour of the bells continuing, but that the group that he represented would like to come to some agreement in order to solve the situation that appeared to have split the residents of Ashwell. They had met with the Parish Council and it had been a positive meeting, and the aim was to stave off the serving of an imminent Noise Abatement Notice. He concluded his presentation by informing the Committee that the same bells had been in St Mary’s Church since it was built in 1896 and were a part of Ashwell’s history. He then presented the petition to the Chairman, who thanked him for his address.

(2) The Chairman asked Guy Reed to put the other side of the argument to the Baldock and District Committee, Mr Reed explained that he did not believe that the petition was accurate and explained that the residents that he represented numbered just under 300 and they would be happy for the bell chimes to cease between the hours of 11pm and 7am every day and that attempts to negotiate with the Parish Council had been going on for approximately 13 months to date. He claimed that the chimes were very loud (69.9dB) which was bearable during the day, but was excessive at night, when sound carried further. In his house the volume had been measured at 63.9dB which was 19dB above the legal sound limit. He stated that the bells rang every 15 minutes for 24 hours per day, so it felt as though the noise was ceaseless. Mr Reed compared the Ashwell Advocates’ campaign to that of Baldock, and read an extract from the Baldock and District Minutes of November 2012. He stated that one solution could be to change the mechanism of the clock to be suppressed at night only, which would cost in the region of £1,800. The Chairman thanked Mr Reed for his address and asked the Head of Housing and Public Protection Service (HHPPS) to comment and give the background from a legal perspective, which he did. He quoted from the Environmental Protection Act 1990, as amended and explained that it was a legal requirement to investigate noise complaints and if the levels were above the legal limit, a Noise Abatement Order would be served as any noise above that level was “a nuisance in Common Law and prejudicial to health”. He revealed that his officers had investigated the complaints and taken measurements, with the results appearing to show that at night the noise may be prejudicial to residents’ health. He explained that no notice has as yet been served, as he was happy to work with both sides and the Parish Council until a settlement is reached, perhaps with suppression of the chimes at night, rather than serve the Noise Abatement Notice straight away. On referring to the bells of the Church of St Mary the Virgin in Baldock, the Chairman was informed that the level of noise found was marginal and a local settlement had been reached.

The Baldock and District Committee discussed the problem, raising issues such as: the Parish Council controlled the bells, not the District Council; if the noise levels were lowered, perhaps the Parish Council could come to an interim solution; outside of legal arbitration, could there be found another process to solve this? The HHPPS replied that there was no mechanism within the Act to deal with this, there would need to be a clear agreement between both sides. The Chairman then asked Mr Pack to state the aim of his group of residents, and was told that they would like things to stay as they were and for the Parish Council to work with the HHPPS towards a solution. Part of their aim was to preserve the history of St Mary’s Church in Ashwell. Mr Reed then agreed that he, too, would like the Parish Council to work with the HHPPS towards a solution, but that they had not agreed to this. The Chairman then summarised that both sides had presented their points of view and they had been given the legal position from the HHPPS. The Parish Council had not attended the meeting and the Committee would encourage both groups to do their best to come to a mutually agreed resolution. It was hoped that the Parish Council would be fully involved in this process. He thanked the speakers for their presentations and thanked the Head of Housing and Public Protection Service for his valuable assistance. Finally, on behalf of the Committee he requested a report back on this issue, to the next meeting of the Baldock and District Committee on 11 November 2013. All parties were asked to discuss and debate and the Committee looked forward to a speedy and amicable solution to this matter.

(3) Kate Heath of Wallington Parish Council addressed the Baldock and District Committee regarding the land at Kits Lane, Wallington. She put the case for the land in question to be acquired by Rushden and Wallington Parish Council for the use of the residents of the village, for a nominal sum or else leased from the Council for a peppercorn rent, as they have a small precept and were unable to afford the land’s true market value. She explained that the pressing concern of the Parish Council and residents was the destruction of natural habitat of the wildlife in the area, as the land has been unmanaged for over 50 years. Several protected species of wildlife have been seen and recorded on this land and she pointed out that the owners of the land (currently NHDC) is legally obliged to have a wildlife survey carried out before any action is taken. Various concerns were raised, regarding the historical value of the land as part of George Orwell’s life in the village, road safety concerns arising from the addition of a fence or hedge which could reduce the sight line at the road junction of Kits Lane and the Street, and protecting the sustainability of the community by keeping the land in public hands, to meet any potential environmental, social or economic needs. However, Ms Heath impressed on the Committee that the most important concern was that of conservation. She concluded by declaring that the residents of Wallington were opposed to the private sale of both the identified areas of land, on environmental grounds, and declared that NHDC asset-stripping the village put wildlife at risk. She urged the Baldock and District Committee to support the villagers of Wallington by recommending that the sale of the land to a private buyer does not go ahead.

In response to the presentation, a Member of the Committee clarified that there could be no “asset-stripping” of the land by NHDC as the Council owned the land. The Chairman then thanked Parish Cllr Heath for her comprehensive address.

(4) Les Kitto, owner of no. 3 The Street, addressed the Committee on the subject of purchasing the land at Area B, which he had been trying to do for the past three years. He stated that the land abutted onto his garden and he had seen no rare or protected species in the past 10 years - just tawny owls and muntjack deer. He stated the intention, if he were allowed to purchase the plot, of clearing brambles and maintain the grass and trees, rotavating part of the land and putting in a hedge around it. Mr Kitto pointed out that Area B could only be accessed across his land and he would not be happy agreeing to other people gaining access. He pointed out that he did not want to disagree with the Parish Council or anybody else, just to acquire the land, tidy it up and grass it.

The Chairman thanked Mr Kitto for his presentation to the Committee, and clarified that the Baldock and District Committee was an Area Committee, not the Planning Control Committee, so could give no decisions, just their views, which would follow at Item 6 on this Agenda. The Senior Estates Surveyor, when asked by the Committee for an indication of the value of the land, confirmed that this was in line with other such land in the area.

(5) Murray Fastier, Baldock Town Centre Manager, addressed the Committee on the subject of the grant application that had been submitted at Item 9 on the Agenda. He explained that the funds sought would help to cover publicity and St John Ambulance costs for the remaining events organised by the Baldock Town Partnership for 2013, namely the Baldock 10k race in September, the Baldock Firework Display in October, the Ashwell Half Marathon in November and the Baldock Weekend in December. He clarified that a lot of people from outside the Baldock area, as well as from the villages closer to the town, were drawn into Baldock to enjoy the events and use the shops, pubs, restaurants and coffee shops, all of which was good for the retailers of Baldock. He confirmed that the funds he requested would be allocated specifically to for the purposes stated, and the Chairman declared that this grant application would be considered later on the Agenda at Item 9 - Champion News and Finance Report.

RESOLVED:
(1) That Mr Christopher Pack, a resident of Ashwell, be thanked for presenting a petition to the Chairman regarding retention of the chimes at St Mary’s Church, Ashwell and giving a 5-minute presentation;

(2) That Mr Guy Reed, an Ashwell resident, be thanked for his address to the Baldock and District Committee on behalf of approximately 12 residents, requesting that the chimes of St Mary’s Church be turned off between the hours of 11pm and 7am to mitigate the nuisance and health effects caused by noise levels;

(3) That Cllr Kate Heath of Wallington Parish Council be thanked for her presentation regarding land disposal at Kits Lane and The Street and proposed solutions to the problem;

(4) That Mr Les Kitto be thanked for his presentation proposing that he be allowed to purchase some of the land in question at Kits Lane;

(5) That the Committee wishes the residents of Ashwell all the best in solving the problem of the bell chimes at St Mary’s Church, working with Ashwell Parish Council;

(6) That a report on the progress towards resolving the problem of the bell chimes in Ashwell be brought to the next Baldock and District Committee Meeting on 11 November 2013;

(7) That the Baldock Town Centre Manager be thanked for his presentation to the Baldock and District Committee on behalf of the Baldock Town Partnership;

(8) That the Committee’s decision on a grant award to Baldock Town Partnership be made at Agenda Item 9 - Champion News and Finance Report.
27 PROPOSALS FOR LAND AT KITS LANE, WALLINGTON, BALDOCK
The Senior Estates Surveyor presented the report of the Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management and stated that the land in question was surplus to the Council’s requirements. He explained that Area A on the location plan at Appendix 1 was a wooded copse, Area B was an area with about 10 trees that was adjacent to part of the garden of No. 3 The Street, Wallington and Area C consisted of a footpath, lay-by and a steep embankment adjacent to Kits Lane.

The proposals on which the Committee’s views were sought were as follows:

• Mr Kitto, the owner of No. 3 The Street had offered to purchase Area B which was adjacent to his land and property. He reported that he had maintained the area of the trees in the past and would continue to do so;

• Wallington Parish Council had offered to either buy or rent Areas A, and B and C from North Herts District Council for a nominal sum or nominal rent. They, would take over the maintenance and look to preserve the existing wildlife habitat.

Committee discussion, during which clarification was called for from both Ms Heath from the Parish Council and Mr Kitto, raised such points as: due to the nature of the land there was no development possibility; a sale to Mr Kitto would generate a sale price commensurate with market value of garden land; a sale to the Parish Council would generate a nominal receipt; a lease to Parish Council would produce nominal income. Advice from the Council’s Legal Services was that there was no legal requirement for a Wildlife Survey as a result of selling land. The Development and Conservation Manager advised that the sale of Area B to Mr Kitto would necessitate planning permission for change of use for the land to be included within the garden of No.3 The Street, as she considered that the land does not have a residential use at this time. Normally Area B could only be accessed by crossing Mr Kitto’s land at 3 The Street due to the thickness of the trees and hedges bordering the boundary with Kits Lane. Some Members suggested that both Areas A and B should be sold for housing development, as every town, village or hamlet in North Herts should contribute towards additional housing in North Herts. This was not supported by all of the Members. The Development and Conservation Manager informed the Committee that more housing was not a sustainable solution in this rural location, which had been supported on appeal for a site within the village. One Member gave his view that Area B resembled an overgrown area forming part of the garden of No. 3 The Street. If sold, conditions should be attached to the sale documents requiring the purchaser to maintain the existing trees and that if in the future it is developed, NHDC will be entitled to share any uplift in development value. Some Members thought that as the Council does not maintain the area, there appeared to be little benefit in selling the land at this time and it may be better to wait to see what happens in the future in terms of housing provision and planning requirements. The Senior Estates Surveyor stated that the land was not required for operational reasons, yet it remained a liability for the Council. In terms of estate management, the question as to why NHDC was still keeping the land would be considered by Cabinet. This was the reason for asking the Committee for their views.

A Member noted that neither speaker wanted to change the use of the land - Mr Kitto wanted to formalise its use within his garden and the Parish Council wanted to preserve it for the residents of Wallington as a nature area with habitat for the wildlife. Other Members proposed that the best offer should be accepted, as this would benefit North Herts taxpayers. Some Members suggested to “wait and see what happens” and other Members suggested that if the Parish Council could match the price agreed with Mr Kitto then they could buy the Area B instead.

The Chairman finally summarised the disparate views of the majority of the Baldock and District Committee as follows:

• There were issues against the sale of the land concerning housing, sustainability, excess vegetation and the history of Wallington;
• Some Members of Baldock and District Committee suggested that North Herts District Council do nothing at present and see if the plots can be maintained;
• Other Committee Members considered that it would benefit the Council to move forward.

RESOLVED:
(1) That the comments from the Baldock and District Committee be reported back to Cabinet on 24 September 2013 by the Graduate Estates Surveyor in his report;

(2) That the Senior Estates Surveyor and the Graduate Estates Surveyor be thanked for presenting to the Baldock and District Committee the proposals received for land owned by North Herts District Council at Kits Lane and for clarifying various points raised.

REASON FOR DECISION:
To enable Cabinet to take into account the views of the Baldock and District Committee prior to considering the proposals received for disposal of the land owned by NHDC at Kits Lane, Wallington.
28 SECTION 106 AND UNILATERAL UNDERTAKINGS
The Development and Conservation Manager (DCM) introduced the report of the Head of Planning and Building Control and explained the background and purpose of Section 106 agreements and Unilateral Undertakings.

She explained that the process of collection of monies consisted of strict tests and restrictions under the relevant legislation and as set out in the Council’s Supplementary Planning Document. Comparing previous years and the current economic situation, it had become much more difficult to collect monies, as developers demanded more detailed justification as to the reasons for requesting the monies and the spend for both Section 106 and Unilateral Undertakings. In addition to which, Planning Inspectors had not always accepted the Council’s justification. Any monies collected were to be used for capital infrastructure projects and, in particular, the priority was the Council’s own capital projects which ccould be fully justified. This included projects from the Green Space Management Strategy.

The Appendix was limited to the monies collected and showed where it had been allocated but did not show potential monies which might be received from developments which commenced over the next three years or those that had gone to Hertfordshire County Council, of which there was approximately £3 million to be spent across North Hertfordshire.

In response to Members’ questions, the DCM clarified that the Supplementary Planning Document set out the categories of infrastructure projects to which contributions were requested and the monies were index-linked back to November 2006. The collection and spend of the contributions were fully audited, should any challenge be received as to the allocation of the funds.

She drew Members’ attention to paragraphs 8.11 and 8.12 which showed the amounts of monies collected and spent during the last financial year and the proposed spend during the current year, including projects within Baldock.

The Chairman asked the DCM for clarification on the limitations on monies and was told that depended upon the terms of the agreement There were concerns on school provision, and the DCM was able to confirm the contributions for educational purposes for Baldock were being held by Hertfordshire County Council. The DCM agreed to forward the details of contributions to the Herts County Council, to the Committee Members.

A Member of the Committee remarked that Ashwell Parish Council had difficulty in obtaining S106 monies, and reference had been made to a potential new development. Would all monies go to the Parish Council? The DCM clarified the role of S106 in villages. He was advised that it was not the Parish Council, but the District Council who decided where the monies go. Should Ashwell have justifiable infrastructure projects these would be considered, but the monies might be allocated to other organisations within the parishes who could satisfy the requirements and that their project would mitigate the effect of a specific development.

The Chairman thanked the DCM for her clear and comprehensive update on Section 106 and Unilateral Undertakings.

RESOLVED:
(1) That the contents of the report be noted;

(2) That the comments of the Baldock and District Committee be taken into account;

(3) That a report continues to be presented on an annual basis to each of the Area Committees;

(4) That, other than where a contribution has been negotiated for a specific purpose or project, Ward Members of the area where Section 106 or Unilateral Undertaking funding is generated, be consulted prior to allocation of funds to any project;

(5) That, other than where a contribution has been negotiated for a specific purpose or project, Ward Members of the area where Section 106 or Unilateral Undertaking funding is generated and the Area Committee, be consulted prior to funding being allocated away from that geographical area or from a village location to a town.

REASON FOR DECISION:
(1) To ensure that there is a robust system for negotiating and managing Section 106 and Unilateral Undertakings;

(2) To ensure that this is kept under constant review and that the risk associated with this activity is managed in an appropriate manner.
29 PROVISION OF EQUIPMENT FOR VOLUNTARY ORGANISATIONS
As no NHDC officer had attended the meeting to present the report of the Head of Finance, Performance and Asset Management, the Development and Conservation Manager explained to the Baldock and District Committee that provision of this report had arisen from a request from a Member at a Letchworth Committee Meeting. He had asked for an explanation of issues of grant funding to voluntary organisations for capital expenditure and wanted to know ways in which NHDC could retain ownership of these items. The report was to go to all Area Committees. The report pointed out that the Head of Policy and Community Services was currently undertaking an internal review of the grants process, including issues such as this one.

Members commented that they had read the report and thought that it was unnecessary. They did not agree with the report’s apparent proposal that the Council should retain ownership of equipment bought with grant funding. They would prefer voluntary organisations to obtain the necessary equipment and, if and when they no longer required it, pass it on to another such organisation for community use only. The Chairman proposed that such a condition be included in the Grant Agreement.

The Chairman thanked the DCM for clarifying this issue.

RESOLVED:

(1) That the report be noted;

(2) That a condition be included in the Grant Agreement that the equipment acquired by grant funding be for community use only;

(3) That Members support the approach whereby items acquired, and subsequently owned, by external organisations utilising grant funding, should be treated equivalently to being on loan to the organisation in question, following a proportionate approach depending on value and a clear audit trail as described in para 8.3 of the report.

REASON FOR DECISION:
As requested by Members, to inform Area Committees of the financial reporting approach to be taken with respect to grant funded purchases.
30 CHAMPION NEWS AND FINANCE REPORT
The Community Development Officer (CDO) for Baldock and District presented the report of the Head of Policy and Community Services.

He went through the budget spreadsheet and the Area Committee Update 2013/2014, reviewing the progress of the schemes and events proposed for Baldock and its surrounding area.

Updates were given on Farmers Markets, Weekly Markets, BTADP Memberships and informed Members that a new Baldock Town Guide was in the process of preparation, giving information about the locality and history of Baldock. This will be completed by November 2013 and could generate up to £5,000 of income for the BTADP through selling advertising space.

Events
The CDO listed the future events being held from September to December an gave detailed information of the Baldock Firework Display to be held on 26 October at Hartsfield School. Tapps Garden Centre were donating the fireworks, and a skilled professional would be running the firework display. There would be many activities other than fireworks available on the night.

Sale Drive
Costings for the installation of lighting and formalisation of the footpath in the area were awaited, and it was hoped that some Section 106 monies could be used for this project.

Baldock Fair
This was due to be held from 2 to 4 October, and preparations were being made for this annual event.

Baldock Cellar Hatches
These had finally been rectified and signed off by NHDC.

Baldock 10k Race
This would be held on Sunday 15 September, using the same start and finish as the Ashwell Half Marathon. The number of entries had risen from 30 to 135 and it was hoped even more runners would register in the remaining few days before the race.

Baldock Town Hall
The relevant lease documents had been signed by the Baldock Town Hall Group and North Herts District Council. Areas of the town hall were to be brought into operation shortly and a programme of events were planned, including a Fireside Festival assisted by the Arts Council.

Baldock Pétanque
A suitable venue was still being sought to enable the local Pétanque Group to practice their sport.

Grant Funding
The Committee was asked to note the funding applications in the Ward Project table in this report.

Members were asked to consider grant funding in the sum of £1,250 to the Baldock Town Partnership to assist with the cost of the remaining events planned for 2013, i.e. the Baldock 10k run in September, the Baldock Firework Display in October, Ashwell Half Marathon in November and the Baldock Christmas Weekend in December. It was agreed that all Wards would contribute and Members agreed their contributions between them.

The Chairman thanked the Community Development Officer for his report and for his efforts on behalf of the people of Baldock and the surrounding District.

RESOLVED:
(1) That the activities and schemes with which the Community Development Officer has been involved be noted;

(2) That the budgetary expenditure, balances and carry forwards from the Development Budget spreadsheets at Appendix 1 be noted;

(3) That the Committee acknowledges the recent grant award of £750 to Balstock Music Festival to cover the cost of publicity, security and St John Ambulance attendance, together with the hire of inflatables and Public Liability Insurance;

(4) That the Committee considers and agrees to grant £1,250 to the Baldock Town Partnership to assist with the publicity and St John Ambulance costs for putting on the events planned by the BTP in the second half of 2013.

REASON FOR DECISION:
(1) To ensure that the Committee are kept informed of the work of the Community Development Officer;

(2) To inform Members of the financial resources available to the Committee. It draws attention to the current budgetary situation, assists in the effective financial management of the Baldock and District Committee’s budget and ensures actions are performed within the Authority’s Financial Regulations and the guidance in the grants procedure;

(3) The awarding of financial assistance to voluntary organisations and the use of discretionary spending allows the Committee to further the aims and strategic priorities of the Council;

(4) Production of the report is a requirement of the ‘Priorities for the District’, in which the Community Development Officer is required to produce a formal report to the Area Committee on six occasions each year in line with the Civic Calendar.
Published on Tuesday, 1st October, 2013
9.50p.m.