This is the second year running I have had the pleasure of presenting this report – it is not a first but it is fairly unusual for someone to be re-elected as Parish Council chairman in successive years. It happened simply because the previous vice-chairman did not stand for re-election at the Parish Council elections last year.
A Parish Council election was held last May – 8 members of the old Council and 4 new members were elected. We had to say goodbye to 3 members who decided not to stand and 1 former member who failed to secure election. The newly elected Council has been working for almost a year and I believe that it is working well. I would like to thank all the members of the Council, the Council staff, my family and friends for all the help which they have given to me in this second term of office. Also thanks are due to our 3 Borough Councillors and our County Councillor, all of whom are members of this Council. There should have been a County Council election in 3 weeks time, on 3rd May, but this has been postponed until 7th June, we think!!!
The reason for the postponement is well known – the foot and mouth disease crisis. There are only a few farms left within our parish boundary, but we are surrounded by an immense area traditionally strong and reliant on agriculture; together with businesses which draw their main income from the farming community. The potential for the County of Cheshire is very serious; as it is for the whole of the agricultural community which has suffered very badly in the last few years.
In any Council year there are bad things and good things. Let me comment on a few of the bad:
Planning permission was granted last week for the building of flats on the former Good Companions site – despite considerable local opposition which favoured use of the site for retail purposes and the retention of car parking.
Congleton Borough Council is reviewing its Local Plan and the draft was produced at the end of 2000. It proposed 2 sites for residential development in Holmes Chapel – a small site on Station Road and much larger site on the north side of Middlewich Road. Both sites are contrary to local opinion which appears to favour restraint on further residential development in Holmes Chapel.
The Local Plan Review also proposed an employment site on the south side of Middlewich Road – again contrary to local opinion. These unpopular proposals have been opposed very strongly.
There is a view, not just locally, but in the country at large, that the problems in the agricultural industry, of which the present foot and mouth problems are just the latest, could lead to radical changes to planning policies in rural areas. It is too early to say just how far this will go but I feel that the whole planning and development situation will require careful monitoring in the future – and certainly this Council will be very active in trying to safeguard the interests of the whole community.
There are some good things to report:
The Parish Council has invested a lot of time and effort in updating its administration and improving communications in the last year. We have acquired a new computer and now have fax and e-mail facilities together with word processing and shortly our accounts will be computerised. The Council now has a web site with a wide range of information available to the local community. All this has enabled us to get better press coverage and to be ready for the increasing demands of legislation affecting all local authorities.
Plans are now well advanced to carry out major environmental improvements in the village centre and in the next few months you can expect to see repaving of the footpaths and other minor works to enhance the lovely village of which we are very proud. This all started as a Parish Council millennium project.
The previous Council did a lot of bulb planting in various areas of the village – much of the work being manual labour by Parish Councillors and willing helpers. We have really seen the benefits of this work this spring. We now want to think about floral displays over a greater part of each year and this is an item for tonight’s agenda.
Although we have lost the Good Companions car park (except for a planned 15 spaces) Congleton Borough Council now has £125,000 in its budgets for public car parking in Holmes Chapel and it is anticipated that this will result in 35 spaces being provided at the library site. You can expect to see a planning application for this development during the year.
During the year 2000 Holmes Chapel celebrated 20 years of twinning with Bessancourt. During these years families in the area have built up long lasting friendships. Although the Parish Council were instrumental in setting up the arrangements and has maintained an interest in the Association, the Twinning Association has been an independent and self supporting organisation with little financial support from the Council. I was pleased to visit Bessancourt in October last and at a social event I presented to their community a painting of the centre of Holmes Chapel.
And I really want to end on a high note. For over 30 years it has been the ambition of this Council to provide additional playing fields and unfortunately a lot of local effort has not resulted in much success until this year. At the time of the last Local Plan Inquiry, about 4 years ago, the Inspector very much pushed us towards using surplus land on the former Cranage Hall Hospital site. Some land had to be provided by the developers but this has not been considered large enough or entirely suitable for a worthwhile scheme. In February, the Health Authority auctioned some more land and, as you may know, Congleton Borough Council, with support from Cranage and Holmes Chapel Parish Councils, were successful in buying about 8 acres of land – which includes the site of the former hospital playing pitch. There is a lot of work to do before we can expect playing pitches up and running but we really do have the best opportunity in years to make a significant impression for local recreation. Although the land is in the Cranage Parish I believe that it is so near to Holmes Chapel that we should not consider it to be a disadvantage.
This report is a brief outline of some important issues which have faced the Parish Council in the last year, plus some ideas for the future. However, during the last year we have considered many items too numerous to mention. Please feel free to ask questions about these issues and indeed any other matters of interest to you in the question time which will follow.
Susan J Maddock
Chairman of the Council