All seven members attended the February meeting of Abbotts Ann Parish Council.

The following topics were discussed:

Community governance: The council had delivered an information flyer to Burghclere Down residents, left leaflets in Abbotts Ann village shop, and used social media, eliciting views on whether Burghclere Down should stay within the civil parish of Abbotts Ann or transfer to another council.

The 60 or so responses, mainly from Burghclere Down residents, had been considered at an extra parish council meeting. Most favoured Burghclere Down remaining. This option would entitle Burghclere Down to three councillors on Abbotts Ann parish council, leaving the village four. Councillors had expressed surprise at the result but it had been conveyed to Test Valley Borough Council.

Manor Farm: The council had previously been asked by Monxton councillors to support the building of 15 houses at Manor Farm in Abbotts Ann parish area. This would finance the re-location of the steel fabrication company from there, thus reducing traffic through Monxton. Cllr Andrew Hayter, chairman, invited comments. Ron Jones, a long-standing resident, feared housing would increase traffic and other problems in Abbotts Ann. Cllr Susie Bleeker was worried about the precedent of breaching planning policy, even though the borough council was amenable. Ron asked if the company had considered selling the unit to a garden centre for storage. This would be more in keeping with the village. The site representatives present had not but thought it a good idea.

Council ‘standing orders’ prohibits discussion with developers before submission of planning applications: It was proposed the orders be amended to allow discussion in selected cases.

Susie Bleeker was reluctant. The policy had been adopted to avoid a recurrence of the great pressure put on councillors by a speculative developer previously. The freedom to choose cases could lead to accusations of bias. She added that if the borough council could change the rules to allow housing at Manor Farm, they could change the rules and extend the automatic number plate recognition system to control the traffic on Monxton Road!

Cllr Mike Doherty feared big companies with strong lawyers could cause difficulties if the council engaged with them. Cllr Lorna Haigh also feared problems. Cllr Colin Teasdale was unhappy about switching standing orders ‘on and off’, but felt this amendment would offer flexibility. Cllr Tim Abram suggested it would enable the council to deal more effectively with planners. Cllr Dale Wells said he could see pros and cons, but voted for change.

The chairman’s deciding vote opposed amendment. Councillors thus remained unable to enter discussions with the site representatives.

Sports Field Management Advisory Committee (SFMAC): Tim Abram reported on the first meeting of the new SFMAC, comprising three parish councillors and four members of the former Sports Field Management Committee (SFMC). The SFMC would retain the money accumulated from its fund-raising events for a new pavilion, and would continue to raise money. The council would separately manage the hiring income and maintenance expenditure of the premises. Susie Bleeker feared the public might mistakenly assume the fund-raising account, holding around £24,000, belonged to the council. Tim said the SFMC would change its name to avoid confusion. At present it did not have sufficient resources to become a charitable trust. Susie suggested instigating a medium-term plan for building improvements, to attract more hirers.

Burial Ground Committee: The chairman of the council reported on the Burial Ground Committee meeting. He had inspected the burial ground and churchyard: paths were in fair condition; the fence needed repair,but posed no immediate risk. He was monitoring the ‘degree of lean’ on headstones. The church warden attempted several times to interject from the floor, disagreeing with the chairman’s comments. The chairman had to remind him forcefully that parish council meetings are not ‘public meetings’, and the public cannot speak unless invited by the chairman. He did not allow the interventions.

Next meeting: 7.00 pm, 1 March, Burghclere Down Community Centre.

Rosemary Groves