Chairman’s report 2021 for AGM ~ 24th May, 2021

Wonderful things can happen when faced with adversity and South Leigh residents rose to the challenges of Covid-19 amazingly.

Lockdown activities

Faced with the lockdown and its implications for those without transport or access to public facilities, the Parish Council helped the village pull together to offer help to residents and to keep us all connected.

We started with offers of help collecting and delivering prescriptions and shopping.

The disused bus shelter was turned into a library-cum-jigsaw resource. Then we launched the scarecrow competition on VE Day, and the bus shelter has since been reinvented as a tableau for Santa’s Grotto, Valentine’s Day, the Easter Bunny’s Burrow, and currently the Limb Brook Live exhibition.

Over Christmas, people were encouraged to take part in an individual advent calendar display at their houses, and the Church provided a wonderful Carol Van with carol singing, all appropriately distanced, of course. Finally, a Christmas tree with twinkling lights appeared on the football pitch.  

I think everyone enjoyed these opportunities and maybe some will be revisited post COVID.

I would like to thank everyone whether involved in the organisation or the participation.  

The South Leigh News went digital for which I would like to thank John Ashwell and Lysette Nicholls. If and when the physical copies will become available again after Covid will be for the new Council to decide.

Parish Council affairs

We welcomed two new people to the Parish Council during the year -  Lysette Nicholls who joined as a Councillor, and Tammy Heavens, as Parish Clerk. Both are super additions.

John Ashwell stood down as Parish Clerk after 40 PLUS years of service for which we thank him sincerely.

Although not officially in the reporting year, it would be strange not to comment on the recent elections where our Parish recorded the highest turnout in West Oxfordshire, at 74%. I want to thank everyone who was involved in any way as this really does underline how we think and act as a community.

In particular, I want again to thank the three Councillors who will be leaving the Parish Council, Eileen Mawle, Mark Walker and Martin Wilson. They all served our community for many years and we all owe them our sincere thanks.

The recent election brings new faces to the Parish Council: David Auger, Dick Pears and Rita Sawrey-Woodwards. We also welcome Dan Levy as our new County Councillor and Andy Goodwin as one of our District Councillors. We look forward to working together. I’d especially like to congratulate Lysette Nicholls for also being elected District Councillor for Standlake, Aston and Stanton Harcourt.

So, to return to the reporting year:

Finance

The Parish Council voted to raise the precept - by an average of just £3 per household per annum - to cover our increased costs, particularly of employing a clerk (previously this has been done on a voluntary basis but that is no longer considered best practice). I should add that the PC is not allowed to operate at a deficit so we felt that this minimal increase was prudent.

Leases both on the football pitch and the playground have been negotiated and monies are now held on account to cover those costs when called upon.  

Our current grass cutting contract came to an end with the retirement of the contractor. We have since contracted a new person that will increase our costs by a small amount but that won’t be recorded until next year’s accounts.

I should add that all the established costs continue and that, this year in particular, there is very little room in our budget for 'extras'.

Let me now mention the Solar Farm at 12 Acre Farm.

This planning application came forward and although it is not in our parish it is very much part of our vista and borders our parish. Many meetings were held with the developer and WODC which resulted in the visual impact being softened by the planting of new hedges and trees together with infilling existing hedges, and the pathway through the middle of the site will be made more visually pleasant and planted with a wide wild flower border. In addition, the developer has agreed to pay the parish £40,000. The work on this site has only just started - it was delayed by COVID- but is due to finish in November of this year.

The money is due to us hopefully c. November and it will be for the new council to decide how best it is used.

Parish Activities 

Several new groups or sub-committees were set up during the period - the Forest Restoration Group, Nature Recovery Group, the Paint and Scrape group, Speedwatch and a Churchyard Working Party. 

Another, and the largest, is the Conservation Area Application Group who have been mandated through a village poll to investigate the possibility of applying for Conservation Area Status. 

The lack of Mobile Phone Coverage throughout the parish has been stridently investigated and, with the help of our MP, is moving forward.  

New playground equipment has been installed – there is now equipment suitable for a slightly older age group alongside some for the youngsters.

The Nature Recovery Group has been concentrating on the Limb Brook and it is their intention to widen the scope in the months to come to include village days for both information and action.

Speeding throughout the village is of great concern to both your Parish Council and residents. A very successful Speedwatch group was set up that made a significant impact on traffic for the few months they were allowed to operate before lockdown.  It should be restarting very shortly with the additional benefit that the police have strengthened their support and the consequences for drivers who consistently break the law.

There are many people to whom we owe our thanks for all the above as well as people who just off their own back make this such a wonderful place to live. I want to say thank you to them all.

Looking ahead

Of course, the new Parish Councillors will elect a new Chair and Vice Chair but, whoever they are, we as a parish are facing some major issues that will be our priorities to fight together. 

They are the proposed Shores Green Junction, the duelling of the A40 and the proposed roundabout at Barnard Gate. We’ll need to battle these together with the proposed Anaerobic Digester site at the Witney entrance to the village. 

There is also the ever-present threat of new housing as well as all the usual matters of planning applications, pot holes, the threat of flooding and more.

As we go forward, we will need to address these matters and, whether I am elected Chair or not, I shall be proposing that the Parish Council becomes somewhat more structured, and thus more efficient, to address each of these and the other challenges we face more effectively. We have done well in the past with Gladman, the pub and the Neighbourhood Plan, but I feel that these upcoming threats may need even more effort.

In closing, I feel confident to say that the Parish Council promises to work hard on your behalf, but we will need help. So, if you feel that you would like to contribute in any way, or if there are issues that you would like us to take up on your behalf, please just ask.

Finally I want to say thank you to all the council for supporting me over the past years and, whether you, as parish residents, voted for any of us or not, I know that we will all be working for you.

Nicky Brooks
Chairman of South Leigh Parish Council
  01993 701137 /   nickybrooks@southleigh.info