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2013 Parish Meeting

Written by The Editor on .

The 2013 Annual Parish Meeting was held last night (16th May) in a packed Cocking Village Hall.  Villagers, numbering well into the mid 30s, turned up to hear reports of Parish Council activities over the year and were greeted by newly elected Chair, Richard Marks.

Richard gave the Revd Dr Colin Bradley's apologies and explained that the guest speaker (and substitutes) from Hyde Martlett were no longer able to attend. With neither a  District nor County Councillor attending either, the meeting could have been short on content, but in the event these absences seemed to make little difference and there was plenty to interest the gathering.

Under the heading of Chairman's report, Richard began by thanking outgoing councillors (Gill Buchanan 10 years, Brian Kemp 14 plus years, Paul Henshaw) and welcoming new councillors Christian Budd and Gwen Miles together with new Parish Clerk, Melvyn Kirkby.

Richard seemed to be looking to the future rather than the past and focused on the Council's two major roles. He said that the first of these was the maintenance and improvement of village assets such as the Village Hall, the children's playground and the new allotments that would be available shortly under Gwen Miles' supervision. The second role was explained as liaison and fostering good relations with bodies such as the Planning and Highways Departments, the South Downs National Park Authority and major local landowners such as Cowdray.

The first of several reports that followed came from ex-councillor Gill Buchanan. As new Chair of the Hall Committee, Gill thanked the outgoing Chair Sue Redshaw and reported that the Hall was being well used for regular bookings and also hosted one-off events such as wedding receptions and parties that had brought in £2,300 of last year's £3,800 rental income. Gill reported that despite the loss of a regular booking from a dance group, the Hall was expecting to match or even exceed 2012 income this year and that the Committee was planning a programme of redecoration and equipment replacement to maintain the Hall as a high quality venue. Other possibilities outlined were hard standing for disabled parking and a store behind the Hall if the business case shows that it could increase income sufficiently. Gill continued by saying that Cocking Village Hall was self financing, but that (civil) parish residents could book it at a discount. She finished by saying that the Committee were keen to welcome further volunteers as members or on a very flexible basis, perhaps for a single event or project.

David Imlach presented the next report as Asset Manager. He highlighted considerably improved grass cutting on the green and work already under way to smarten up the Children's Playground. On the latter, and following the annual safety inspection, he reported that the three static wooden animals would be removed along with the spinning disc that could fall foul of the latest regulations. He said that he would like to add a new unit between the two sets of swings and that refurbishment of the main (elephant) unit was progressing. Amongst an impressively long list of other works planned by the Council or others, David listed new paving slabs under the benches, the planting of pansies near the bus shelter, the removal of the last two chestnut trees, the running of mains power to the Green from Milestone Garage and the jet washing of the benches and bus shelter. He also explained that tenders were being issued for the cleaning of the war memorial in time for next November's Remembrance Service and that Colin Bradley would be fully involved the the selection of the contractor.

Mel Kirkby followed David with the Finance Report. Copies of the accounts had been available before the meeting and Mel ran through the figures in some detail. This article will not detail those figures although they may be published here by the Parish Council.  However Mel did highlight the drop in reserves over a four year period, a trend that was only now reversing with a projection that they could amount to a healthy £2,000 by the year end. This led on to an explanation of the finances behind the building of Cocking Village Hall and their effect on Parish Council reserves; a topic that had already been fully discussed earlier in the week at the regular Council Meeting. After a brief revisiting of the details, Mel commented that a project overspend of only 7% was highly creditable, adding that connecting the Hall to mains drainage and additional kitchen equipment had both been factors increasing expenditure above the original budget. The acknowledged failure of Cocking Parish Council to be clear over these financial issues during the summer period in the run up the opening of the Hall and the delay in explaining them since that time led Richard Marks to give a brief and dignified official apology on behalf of the Council. Richard then thanked Mel for taking over the financial reins as Clerk at a difficult time and said that he hoped debate over the issue of the CVH building finances could now be brought to an end.

Before the meeting closed, David Imlach, claiming he was a newcomer who had only lived in the village for 13 years, presented a very personal view of why he thought Cocking was a good place to live. His picture of the varied social events and the generosity of many locals that made them possible at low or no cost to attendees was both compelling and well received by the audience. Finally David referred to Cocking as the Home of Cocking Crunch and said that as a result Cocking was now getting more press coverage.

After the meeting, the attendees eagerly took the opportunity to eat the delicious spread, laid on by Diana Griffiths.  Discussion on the matters that had been raised continued for a considerable time.

Wot No Mast?

Written by The Editor on .

Orange MastNo Orange Mast

There might as well be no mast right now.  The mobile signal from the Orange mast on top of Cocking Hill disappeared last Friday and has not returned since.

Most customers have probably assumed that there was a fault and it would be fixed quickly, but this has not happened. Rumours or theories are now beginning to circulate about vandalism and even that there may be a dispute between the landowner and Orange (or EE which includes both the Orange and T-Mobile brands).  We are trying to find out the facts, but regardless of whether the problem is simply very poor service or if indeed there is a dispute over access or the use of the mast - we currently have a mystery.

Whatever the truth, we can say that when it was working the mast provided the best local signal for mobiles (albeit not a 3G one).  So there must now be a lot of frustrated villagers who are not receiving calls and texts via Orange, T-Mobile and even the Three (3) network who are believed to have a mast sharing agreement with EE.

Parish Council Apologises

Written by The Editor on .

Cocking Village HallReflections on an Unusual Meeting

At the regular Parish Council meeting last night (13th May), the five current councillors elected Richard Marks as Chair and David Imlach as Vice Chair.  In each case there was a single candidate who received three of the four available votes while one particular councillor, who was presumably indifferent to the conduct of future meetings, abstained.

Formalities completed, the meeting proceeded and aside from the routine agenda, the item that occupied by far the largest amount of time was a discussion of the finances of the construction of Cocking Village Hall;  the very building in which the meeting was taking place.  It will come as a surprise to many villagers that this matter is still being actively discussed so long after the Hall's opening in October 2010.  There is obviously considerable history behind the subject, but it emerged at the meeting that in response to a recent letter signed by a handful of unnamed individuals, the Parish Council had felt it necessary to seek advice from both the District Council's legal department and SALC, the Sussex Association of Local Councils.

It is important to point out that there was no suggestion of wrongdoing by any individual councillor or by the Council itself, still less any suggestion of misappropriation of funds. Furthermore, it was reported that the accounts had been fully audited with all income and expenditure accounted for.  In its reply to the Parish Council, SALC did however comment that the Council had been remiss in not giving a clear explanation of the finances of the project in its minutes.  In response to this criticism, the Council resolved at the meeting to apologise for its omissions and to consider improvements to its financial reporting in the future.

Taking a broader view, many would think that apologising in this way is a very generous gesture when the overall picture is of a highly successful project culminating in the provision of a well-built hall that is a credit to the village; A hall that was acknowledged to have been financed very largely with grants solicited by the former Council Chair, Frances Russell.

It seems that the lack of clarity at the heart of this matter arose from the fact that, like so many large capital projects, the original budget was slightly overspent.  The overspend was about £15,000 - well under 10% of the total cost, but it did not delay the project and the unusually large reserves the Parish Council had prudently built up for just that eventuality were used to cover the shortfall.  It was explained that a major factor in the overspend had been the failure of some benefactors to pay the full amounts originally pledged.  For example, one of the most significant donors finally contributed only half of the £40,000 it originally intended to give, citing changes in the national financial climate that had occurred over the life of the project.  In such circumstances it can be seen as a tribute to the project team that the building was still affordable and handed over in such great shape.

It was stated that the actions taken at the time were entirely necessary to complete the project on schedule and that all councillors had been kept fully informed by email during the summer period when there were no Parish Council meetings. Admittedly, failing to report the details in the minutes was a mistake, but in the scheme of things also understandable.  So it is to be hoped that this matter can now be closed as there is no doubt that Cocking has a fantastic asset in its Hall and the Parish Council has more important things to focus on than a prolonged debate over the minutiae of past actions and the minutes of long forgotten meetings; issues that now seem to have very little significance.

When it Comes to the Crunch

Written by The Editor on .

Cocking Crunch

Many will have seen the article about Cocking Crunch in the Observer last week, but fewer will have tuned into BBC Radio Sussex's 'Sussex Breakfast' show this morning.

Those who did so will have heard Linda Henshaw explaining the background story and reporting on the phenomenal level of sales, currently running at over 200 of these home-made confections per week.  They will also have learned how the operation relies heavily on the dedicated support of husband Paul who is keeping the shop running while she bakes batch after crunchy batch.

For those who missed the broadcast, click on the forward arrow in the link below* to play the clip and perhaps discover Linda's secret recipe from the Beeb's hard hitting interview.  Better still, get some of your own Cocking Crunch from Cocking Post Office and guess what's in it for yourself.

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* Note: To restart the clip, just refresh the web page. Unfortunately, audio may not be available on some mobile versions of the site.

2012 County Council Election Results

Written by The Editor on .

Locally, which means the Fernhurst Electoral Division, Mr Michael Brown, the Conservative candidate was returned as our local County Councillor. The results of the poll were as follows:

Candidate Party Votes
Mr M J Brown Conservative 1,350
Mr A M Moncreiff UKIP 700
Mr D D Martin-Jenkins Liberal Democrat 339
Mr J T Smith Labour 259

The turnout was 30.00%.

Sunny Day for Elections

Written by The Editor on .

Village Hall as Polling Station

Polling in the County Council Election got off to a sunny start from 7 am today at Cocking Village Hall.  Two very pleasant officials were on hand, but as usual they were far from overwhelmed by the number of voters calling on them.  At 9 am your Editor and wife were one of only two couples casting their votes.

Nevertheless the democratic process was under way and the poll closes at 10pm giving plenty of time for a good turnout.

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