FELPHAM PARISH COUNCIL CHAIRMAN’S REPORT MAY 2020 – APRIL 2021
I cannot continue with my annual report without first recognising the impact coronavirus has had on everyone’s lives and the function of our council? Things have been challenging, and everyone has worked hard to make the new “Un-normal” as near to “Normal” as possible.
The first UK lockdown came at a time when the council was nearing its end of its operational year and in early May, we would have held our annual meeting when Councillors would have expressed their preferences for the committees they wished to be part of. Nominations would also have been made for the positions of chair and vice-chair of the council plus the chairs and vice-chairs of the respective committees. Because of the current situation, and as per the Government legislation put in place allowing us to do so, it was proposed and agreed unanimously that the existing structure of the council would continue until May 2021, with no change to any chair or vice-chair positions. This means that I am once again honoured to hold the position of chair of the council.
Since May all our meetings, in line with Government guidelines, have been held using Virtual Reality. I wish to thank all Councillors, the Clerk and his assistant, and the Hall Manager, for the way in which they have approached this new method of working and tried to ensure that wherever possible business continues. In January, to further protect against the transmission of covid-19, the Council agreed to distribute all documentation via email, therefore reducing the need for someone to copy and distribute hard copies. This will be reviewed when lockdown ends.
I would also like to express my own thanks to Richard Wickens and Heather Alderton for all their hard work and support throughout the year is invaluable to me. More about Richard and Heather later.
My thanks also to all Councillors who continue to give their time and effort in trying to ensure Felpham remains the place we and its residents want it to be.
We always face challenges in filling Parish Councillor vacancies and traditionally few people tend to come forward. With two vacancies early in the year, and in July Matt Rumsey leaving due to work commitments the number of vacancies is now three.
Fortunately, we have had several people come forward and show interest in becoming a Parish Councillor. Unfortunately, due to the way the selection process is conducted we have had to delay the recruitment process until we can all meet in the Community Hall. This process will be undertaken as soon as possible. The selection process will be difficult, and for some disappointing, as we have more candidates than vacancies so some will be unsuccessful.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic Felpham Emergency Resilience Group has come into its own. The group was activated in early April and very quickly we had around 40 volunteers willing to help those in need in our parish as well as neighbouring ones where little or no support was available.
The group has responded to hundreds of calls and delivered thousands of prescription medicines as well as picking up pre-paid shopping and providing support to those lonely or seeking some form of contact.
Update on a few ongoing projects/activities:
The area has become overgrown and access, unless from a resident’s property, is extremely difficult. The ponds themselves form part of a historical flood control measure for the area and come under Riparian Ownership laws.
Investigations carried out by ADC identified that over time general neglect, and a build-up of silt, may, in extreme cases, impact on the ability of the ponds, and associated drainage, to contribute effectively to the control of serious flooding of this area.
We have identified the building company that own’s a small segment of land and we are actively trying to engage with them to hopefully transfer ownership to the Parish Council. Unfortunately, despite the Assistant to the Clerk repeatedly trying to contact them, the impact of covid-19 is delaying matters significantly. We shall continue to try and resolve this.
We have a contract in place to keep the hedge trimmed and we are considering the provision of a bench and possible notice board.
Fun on the Prom.
The 2020 event, which was planned for Saturday 22nd August, would have marked the 20th anniversary of the event. Reluctantly we felt we had no choice but cancel the event due to the pandemic.
With the ongoing impact of the pandemic, we have also now cancelled the 2021 event as well.
Whilst we understand people are looking forward to getting out and about this summer, and attractions are desperate to earn income, we simply cannot put people at risk and do not believe that we can fully adhere to local Government guidelines for events such as this.
Over the past year several projects continued, including:
3 x extra seafront lights at the Western end of Felpham Prom. Completed o These cover the area alongside Longbrook Park towards Sea Road
Extra dog waste bins across the area. Completed
Extra recycling bins. Completed
Provision of a third defibrillator. Completed
o The council now has three defibrillators across the parish (located at the end of Blakes Road, outside Boots chemist in Felpham Road, and outside the Community Hall in Meaden Way
Outside barbecue areas in Longbrook Park. (Ongoing)
Provision of extra hanging baskets through the village in conjunction with FVCS. This is on
hold due to the pandemic (Ongoing)
Planting of tree coppices across the parish to improve the scene and support the environment (WSCC &ADC) This is on hold due to the pandemic. Several new projects have been proposed, including:
A new gateway sign on the promenade; situated at the parish boundary with Bognor Regis at the end of Longbrook Park. It would welcome people walking along the prom to Felpham. Ongoing.
A Blue plaque honouring a pioneering explorer. Ongoing.
The possible provision of more benches around the Parish. Ongoing
Renewal of the lights in King George V playing field. Complete.
Renewal of the lights along Felpham Prom. Ongoing
Other ideas have been put on hold and will be considered in the future.
In deciding the budget for 2021/22 the council must balance the need for tight control of its finances whilst also recognising there are activities that need doing around our parish to maintain or improve our village.
During November and December 2020, the various committees agreed and submitted their proposed budgets for 2021/22. This is always a challenging time as the council tries to balance the need for sensible, justifiable expenditure and allocating funds to projects benefiting the community, whilst also trying to minimise the impact of these on the precept.
The final proposals were presented to the Finance committee for approval in December 2020 and they were agreed to go forward to main council in January 2021 for ratification.
The parish council precept shows a 0% increase and reflects the tight budgetary control of our funds during the year as well as restraint and common sense looking forward. We recognise many people will have suffered financially during the pandemic, so we were keen to not make any increase in this year’s precept. My thanks to all concerned.
November 2020 saw the council consider this year’s grants applications. Determining who is successful is a task that is delegated to the Finance Committee and I know it is a difficult one.
The applications are all vigorously reviewed, and awards are made, or declined, as the panel determines the overall benefit to Felpham, its residents and visitors.
Because of the pandemic and first lockdown my previous Chairman’s award, which should have been handed over during the annual awards evening in April 2020, was significantly delayed. The awards evening was also cancelled. My decision on the recipient was made in January 2020, well before the pandemic struck, but when the order was placed for the trophy the supplier had to close and subsequently went out of business. It took many months to find another company and as the country adjusted to various restrictions this had a further impact on us receiving the trophy. Eventually it arrived in October and was duly awarded to the Post Office for the Pop-Up Shop initiative.
The 2021 awards evening also had to be cancelled and those successful in their applications will have received their cheques through the post.
After much thought I have decided it would be inappropriate for me to present a Chairman's award this year. With the pandemic there are so many fantastic individuals, organisations, and businesses locally who have been working hard to help others, support their community and do far more than should ever be expected of them that I cannot (and will not) chose just one for my award. They are all deserving, and they should all have some recognition for the contribution they have made to Felpham at this time of crisis. The Chairman’s Award is personal, and I cannot justify making any other decision than this one. I hope others will understand and respect that.
Significant issues worthy of special comment:
During 2020 and early 2021 the use of the hall was limited, and income was seriously reduced. This was not something anyone could have predicted. I know Doug, the Hall Manager has worked hard to ensure that when the hall has been available it has been utilised as much as possible and that the safety of users has been paramount, working diligently to ensure full compliance with all health guidelines. Doug has secured several grants which have significantly helped in covering the running costs of the hall. He has also kept in contact with all hall users prior to the pandemic with a view to welcoming them back when conditions allow.
My thanks to Doug for his continued efforts in making our hall a success for the community.
Neighbourhood Plan and Design Guide:
Because of changes to the ADC Local Plan the council carried out a review of these two policies. Consultation took part during the summer of 2019 and the revised documents were submitted for consideration. The inspecting officer felt that the changes needed further consultation so in early 2020 a second consultation took place.
Based on the responses we believe the revised documents have encompassed the changes and will provide sound and robust guidance and protection to the future development of Felpham.
In early 2021 we were pleased to hear our revised plan was fully endorsed and accepted by Arun District Council. It is now a key document in ensuring any future development, or change to Felpham, must meet certain criteria aimed at protecting our village and its appearance.
Nearby Local Development:
We continue to watch closely how the evolving development plans in neighbouring areas might affect Felpham and the road network in and around our village. Several large housing schemes are under development or review, along with major road improvement projects, including the A27, the A29 and the A259, all of which could have a significant impact on local traffic.
Meetings have been held where plans have been available for discussion, but we remain concerned that data used is not accurate or up to date and that other areas of concern are not being addressed adequately. We will be keeping a close eye on this as it develops.
Additional items of note include:
Rampion2; Councillor Glen Hewlett is our representative attending forums associated with this offshore wind farm. He provides the council with regular updates.
The installation of a new pedestrian crossing in the village centre.
Agreement to renew the light fittings on the blue promenade lights. The existing lights are life expired, and we will soon be installing the latest solar technology supporting our commitment to the environment.
We introduced a practical and responsible policy on vermin control with the St Michaels allotment holders.
West Sussex Association of Local Councils (WSALC)
An issue arose which directly affected the Council and its membership of WSALC. We were advised in late 2020 of a decision taken by the directors of WSALC to move away from its previous links with East Sussex and Surrey Associations and the service provider SSALC, and to align themselves with the Hampshire Association of Local Councils.
This decision angered many local Parish Councils and resulted in the existing board of directors, and overall governance of WSALC, undergoing significant change. The new WSALC, which much closer reflects and represents the wishes and needs of Parish Councils, is working to rebuild relationships damaged during late 2020 and early 2021.
As a member of WSALC, Parish Councils have access to legal, HR, Financial advice and training courses for its members. It also supports our membership of the National Association of Local Councils (NALC).
Richard Wickens, our Clerk, advised me in March that he was leaving. That was, without doubt, one of the worst things I could have heard as Chairman. I have had the pleasure of getting to known and work with Richard for around 6 years. When I joined the council, he helped me understand the way it worked, and his support was invaluable when I became Chairman. Without his guidance, support, knowledge, and patience it would have been a much harder experience for me, and I cannot say a big enough thank you. His advice to the Council has always ensured we acted in the proper manner and his guidance through challenging moments has been invaluable.
I know I, and my fellow Councillors, will miss him and when he hands over to a new Clerk it will be an extremely hard and sad day. A simple thank you will never do justice to the gratitude we all owe Richard.
The Assistant to the Clerk to The Council
Heather Alderton our Assistant to The Clerk also tendered her resignation in mid-April and will be leaving at the end of May. This further compounds the disappointment of losing Richard and again I express my thanks for the hard work she has put in since the time I have been associated with the Council.
The Council faces some challenging times over the coming months as it tries to fill both these positions. Inevitably some activities may take longer, and some projects may take a little longer than hoped, but business will continue as best it can.
I wish both Richard and Heather good luck, good fortune, and good health for the future.
So, an interesting, and extremely challenging year. Hopefully, the Council can look forward to something near normality in the not-too-distant future. In the meantime, please stay safe and stay well.
Chairman Felpham Parish Council 23rd April 2021