Being a New Councillor - Gill's Blog

Newly Appointed Member of the Planning Committee

Hi Everyone.

Planning, planning, planning - is there ever a more contentious issue than planning? We are either unhappy, confused or downright nonplussed by planning decisions or feel that nonsensical ideas are being forced upon us and we have no voice. Well, thats how I have viewed some decisions made in areas where I have lived and unless there is a really obvious improvement the outcome to these decisions is often hard to take on board. That some change must happen for lots of very good reasons is hard to swallow when you are perfectly happy with your surroundings. When you live in a place, even for a very brief time, there is a feeling of ownership so then to not even be consulted about change feels like weve been ignored. But - thats just what the planning meetings are for and my goodness this is a complicated one.

Applications for building new houses, improving and expanding old buildings, change of use of a building - a myriad of different reasons why planning needs to be applied for - are made at the local Council level which is B&NES. They have the responsibility in the process of allowing or asking for changes or stopping an application from moving forward and the process we go through as a Parish Council is part of that process. From the Parish Councils viewpoint, we are looking at the request for planning permission in a holistic way - is it reasonable, does it suit the local area, are there potential problems that have yet to be pointed out, how will the village benefit, can we make information available that will improve the plan? We are not there to simply block a planning application because we dont like it - we are tasked with looking at the proposal and looking into how this will affect the immediate area and the village as a whole. Disagreeing with the plan doesnt mean it will definitely not happen - the local council is responding to rules and dictate from central government and as a Parish Council we have the unenviable task of making those rules and dictates more palatable - no easy task.

So, at my first planning meeting I felt completely out of my depth. But then I hadnt done the pre-reading with a planning head on, I had just read it.

Fortunately, I had experienced people all around me and I was able to observe and listen. It was a bit daunting I cannot lie - you are acutely aware that you are trying to make an informed decision about something that will impact not just those directly involved but also the environment and people’s day to day lives. Im going to have a think about this one - there is definitely homework to do, so before I commit any further, Im going to ask for input from fellow councillors and our Clerk, to get a better handle the whole process.

Bye for now

Gill

Christmas Tea Party for our Senior Residents

Hi Everyone.

Merry Christmas! I know Im early, but our Christmas party really got me in the mood. What a lovely, lovely afternoon it was. Due to Covid this is the first party for three years and I think everyone was determined this would be a cracker!

A fantastic group of people worked together to put on a really jolly Christmas Do with all the trimmings you would expect - a welcoming drink on arrival, delicious homemade food, as much tea and coffee as you could handle, games and singing - everything you could possibly want. It was fabulous to meet so many new people and see the community come together.

One of the people I met was retired Parish Councillor, Calvin Bird, I suspect many of you already know this gentleman through the amazing work he does for the Food Bank and with the Hive.  Calvin very thoughtfully introduced himself to me and wished me well in my time as a Parish Councillor.  It was lovely to meet him in person as his reputation for his organisational abilities and management of projects preceded him.  I am sorry not to be able to work along side Calvin but I appreciate he is already doing so much with local organisations that he had to prioritise how he uses his time.

I am so glad to be living in Peasedown and very proud of all the wonderful people who gave up their time to put on such a lovely Christmas Party.

Bye for now

Gill

Introduction to Advisory Panels

Hi Everyone. 

Shortly after Remembrance Sunday I attended an Advisory Panel Meeting. Again, another learning curve for me. Advisory Panel meetings are basically where councillors do their homework about a particular issue or project they are involved in. The general public are not invited to these meetings as it is all about fact finding and not decision making.

So, the Advisory Panel I was with that day were meeting to look into repairs and/or replacement of some parts of the ground cover in the play areas in Beacon Field. Surprisingly this was a lot more interesting than you would think it could be. Along the way, as we all walked around the park looking at various areas of concern, I heard a lot of the history of Beacon Hall and how the Parish Council have been funding and maintaining the park. When I first moved here, I was very pleasantly surprised to find a dedicated dog area - perfect for new arrivals who are so excited they might just run off home with a stranger! I moved from a large seaside town and there weren’t any facilities like that there so I was very impressed by the thoughtfulness of providing a separate area where you can safely let your dog off the lead and at the same time, if needed, let the children have some playtime.

Back to the Advisory Panel meeting – so, we inspected the damage and wear and tear, photographs were taken, and comparisons made to different parts that have been previously repaired or replaced then back to the Hall to discuss our various findings and opinions. We also came up with a plan of action, in as much as we asked the Parish Office staff to get some quotes for both repairing and replacing the areas of concern, so that we had a comparison. It would be lovely to replace the whole area, but we have to work out as best we can, what would be cost effective and do we have the funds in our budget. For me personally I also would like the environmental impact of the materials used to be looked at before a final decision is made.

By the end of the meeting the Clerk had our recommendations and an action plan to find out more information. All of this will be presented to the Full Council - where the public can come and hear what we have put forward as evidence - and it will be the Full Council who go through the decision-making process. This is where the public get to scrutinise and contribute - after the initial information gathering is done. The Advisory Panel are not telling the Full Council what to do but they are presenting factual information to help the decision-making process, so, if you feel you have something to contribute it is now, at the Council meeting, when you can add your voice to the process. At all times the Council has to take into account what is best for the majority which may not be you so step up and let them know your opinion - the more information we have the better the decision.

It was very interesting being a part of the Advisory Panel and I look forward to following the process through to completion. You can be as involved as much or as little as you want or have the time for. Any extra information you would want to put forward - you might have done your own homework - is always gratefully received, as everyone understands the more we know about something, the easier it is to make informed decisions and then the outcome is more successful for everyone.

Bye for now

Gill

Remembrance Day Afternoon Tea

Hi Everyone.

Another first! My first event held at Beacon Hall in remembrance of all those who lost their lives at war. What a privilege to be part of honouring the lives lost of those who lived in Peasedown and around the world.

And yes! There was a fair amount of tea making. Sandwiches and cakes with tea and coffee was the order of the day but it wasn’t just about the tea and cakes. Cllrs Jonathan Rich and Kathy Thomas read the names of those we lost from Peasedown and Carlingcott. Poems were read and a short film presentation was given about the beginnings of WW1.

The two most striking speeches were given by Cllrs Gavin Heathcote and Jo Davis. It was really interesting to hear such different experiences of having a family member in the armed forces. Jo told us about her son who is in the Army. Her pride in all he has achieved shone through and interestingly she said she was not worried about him all the time as he is doing the job he loves and is well trained to do that job. In contrast Gavin’s experience was growing up with his dad in the Navy and he described the feelings of fear and loss he experienced throughout his childhood. It was a very moving speech and I think it surprised everyone. It is rare to hear someone talk so candidly about the often-hidden side of having a parent in the forces.

It really was a lovely afternoon so I will be happily volunteering for more tea duty.

Bye for now

Gill

First Committee Meeting

Hi Everyone.  

My first committee meeting! Committee meetings are different to the Full Council meetings in as much as they are concentrating on a specific area. So there are the Full Council meetings which address everything that needs to be dealt with and in some ways are like triage for all the business to be conducted. Some items are dealt with directly in the Full Council meetings and some things are forwarded to the relevant committees.

There are several committees that focus on specific jobs. The meeting I went to was a Finance & Amenities Committee meeting. This is where the accounts for the running of the Parish are discussed, examined and decisions are made on spending. All of this information is open to public scrutiny and checked and verified by an independent Internal and External Auditor - otherwise how do we know that our money is being spent wisely and for the things the village needs and wants? Fortunately for Peasedown, the Chair of the Finance & Amenities Committee - Andy Larcombe - worked in banking before taking early retirement and his expertise is clearly a great advantage in this situation. Pages and pages of columns of numbers can be quite daunting to get to grips with but when someone experienced in these matters is at the helm it is not as daunting as you would expect.

The main reason I was at the meeting was to get involved in the village Christmas Tea Party for older residents. This will be the first in person tea party since before Covid - the last two years the Parish Council arranged and delivered hampers to those who would usually attend. So why the Finance Committee meeting get involved in a Tea Party? It’s all about the spending!

Not being an elected member of this Committee (Committees are made up of six councillors voted on by Full Council) I could attend the meeting as a member of the public (all Committee meetings are open to the general public), however, as a councillor, I expressed an interest in coming and was then invited by the Chair to participate in discussions but I was unable to vote. As I said on my last Blog, this can all seem like procedure where procedure may not be needed but it keeps everyone on the straight and narrow.

As before in the Full Council meeting the procedures must be followed - proposing and seconding motions, minutes taken and published for everyone to see, opinions and suggestions taken into account and plans for future projects put in place. Reassuringly detailed and exhaustive so if finance isn’t your thing perhaps this particular committee wouldn’t be for you but with experienced people running it and all the checks in place you can rest assured it’s in safe hands.

I’m not sure where I will be turning up to next. Sadly I will miss a Planning Committee meeting next week due to other commitments but there are plenty of committees on the go so plenty of choice for something to get your teeth into. Don’t forget there is a co-opted slot open now which would take you through to the elections in May - a fantastic opportunity to test the waters before diving in!

Bye for now

Gill

Co-option and First Meeting

Hi Everyone.

My name is Gill and I am a newly co-opted member of the Parish Council. Co-opted means I have not been elected but have been approved by sitting members of the council to fill a vacancy until the next election which will be in May 2023.

When I first found out there was a vacancy I was immediately interested. I moved here only last year and would very much like to be involved in this lovely community. If Covid showed us anything positive it is surely that strong communities do the best for everyone. So as a newbie I wanted to get to know my village and the people and contribute what I can. This was a perfect opportunity but I was nervous about the process and just exactly how much I was taking on.

The process for me to fill a vacancy between elections was to answer some questions about myself and why I wanted to join the Council. Once that had been circulated to the Councillors I was invited to an informal interview at the September Council meeting. I met everyone attending the meeting and answered a few more questions. I was then asked to leave the room whilst they discussed my application and voted on whether or not I was suitable. Fortunately for me it was decided that I would be given the opportunity to join the Council and I was up and running straight away. I stayed on for the meeting and got to see the workings of how decisions are made, projects are moved on to the next stage and a very small insight into just how broad the remit of a Parish Council is.

I had expected layers of rules and procedures and its not till I saw it in action over so many different topics and situations that I started to understand why those rules and protocols are in place.

The Council is made up of residents of the village and they are in charge of a decent budget and have the power to make decisions about changes to the local area which may or may not please people. Therefore the process of making these decisions must be transparent and fair which then inevitably involves procedures to keep the process transparent and fair. So although at first it all seemed a bit long winded, it is actually the best way to keep everyone on track to do the best for the Parish.

It was all a bit daunting at first but before you knew it I was putting myself up for an Advisory Panel or two and seconding proposals. Everyone was helpful and supportive and allowed me to ask questions and to be unsure which is so important at the beginning of something new.

By the end of my first meeting my head was spinning! I wasnt entirely sure just what Id signed up for or how I would get started but I had nothing to worry about - there were plenty of people happy to offer a bit of direction, advice and help should I need it over the coming months. Tanya, the Council Clerk, is a wonder and I suspect I will be emailing her quite a lot till I find my feet.

So onward to the next meeting. I have some reading to get done so that I have a better understanding of procedures and processes and a couple of meetings coming up to introduce me to ongoing projects. Parish Councils may sound stodgy but they are the community in action. If youre not sure what they get up to come to a meeting - they are open to the public because they work for the public.

Bye for now

Gill