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Orange Update

Written by The Editor on .

OrangesHaving written to Orange while the long outage was under way, cocking.org had a phone call from a representative of EE earlier today.

The gentleman who called was not able to answer all our questions, but he did say that the outage was caused by a technical problem with the antenna.  He added that he was unaware of any contractual dispute relating to the Cocking Hill site and had been informed that while temporary repairs had been made to restore the service, a longer term solution was needed and should take place within about a month.

Parish Council Meeting - June 2013

Written by The Editor on .

The minutes will be published by the Parish Council in due course and after approval.  In the meantime here is...

A Summary

The regular monthly meeting in Cocking Village Hall was chaired by Richard Marks, assisted by the Clerk, Mel Kirkby and attended by councillors Christian Budd, David Imlach and Gwen Miles. Several members of the public attended the meeting, and for part of it so did District Councillor John Cherry and two guests invited to speak about the new development at The Croft - Rees Daniel, Head of Development Delivery for Hyde Martlett and Lloyd Exley, Contracts Manager for Drew Smith Ltd, the construction company.

Hyde Group LogoAfter initial formalities Mr Daniel briefly described the scope of the project at The Croft and presented an update on the progress of the project to date.  He said that there were to be 18 highly energy efficient homes comprising 11 houses, 1 bungalow and 6 flats on two floors. He continued by saying that there would also be community gardens and 35-40 parking spaces and reported progress to date as follows:

  • the old flats had been demolished
  • the site had been cleared
  • a site cabin had been set up
  • some initial work on boundaries and services had been undertaken

For construction company Drew Smith Ltd., Lloyd Exley explained that the project should be complete in 52 weeks time, the next phases being:

  • 10-12 weeks of ground works including construction of the foundations
  • Erection of timber frames, which would be brought onto site in sections
  • Addition of brickwork, roofs, windows, doors etc.
  • Internal finishing

There was discussion about the parking bays and construction traffic. It was disclosed that the parking would be provided early in the project and that the busiest period for traffic movements would be the groundwork phase with 6-7 lorries per day removing and delivering material. Mr Exley, for the builders, said that the Site Manager or another person would act as banksman at the entrance to the site and that lorries would be able to turn round within the site itself, removing the need to reverse on the approach road.

Communicating with local residents was a topic raised by members of the public in questions to Hyde Martlett and Drew Smith Ltd. who mentioned that initial letters had already been sent out and promised that updates would be issued. The companies also seemed receptive to direct contact with Croft residents as well as keeping in touch with the Parish Council throughout the life of the project.

Before the two guests left, they answered some concerns from Croft residents in the audience about boundary changes affecting their two homes. There was also discussion about aspects of the planning application including the children's playgound and allotments. The Parish Council position was that equipping and maintaining a second playground in the village was unaffordable, that extra allotments were not needed and that better parking and a weatherproof path to the Village Hall were more important. It was suggested that the Council should formally contact Hyde stating what their requirements were and it was confirmed that residents would have to pay a 'small' service for the unadopted roads and upkeep of the communal areas.

Further items from the public followed. First there was a short address to the Council by villager David Earley on the subject of the commemoration of World War I.  David told the Council that he was trying to organise a 2014 local commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of war. He was suggesting an informative plaque in the Village Hall and various other elements and was seeking support. Through the Chair, the Council said that it supported the idea, but it could not promise to fund it completely.

Next, former Chair of the Parish Council, Frances Russell, thanked both Gwen Miles for her enormous efforts in clarifying the Cocking Village Hall finances and Chair, Richard Marks for his approach to steering the Council over the last few months. Both Richard and Gwen thanked Frances and Richard added that the Council had done what it had to do.

In the District Councillor's report,  John Cherry had three main points to raise:

  • The £175,000 reduction in District Council capital budgets due to current financial climate.
  • Plans were now in place for fibre broadband that should reach 98% of residents with a much faster service within 3 years.  Cllr. Cherry was not specific about plans for Cocking and suggested that the Council should make representations.
  • Possible changes in the planning process were proposed. These could give decision-making powers to planning officers, reducing the need to consult parish councils. Cllr. Cherry urged the Council to form a view on this and communicate it to the District Council as soon as possible as if the new proposals are agreed they could fundamentally alter the role of Parish Councils and was something he saw as a threat to local democracy.

David Imlach raised the question of speeding and the difficulty of finding anyone who would respond over the matter. Cllr. Cherry agreed to raise the issue with the new Police Commissioner before leaving the meeting.  As there were no new planning applications to be discussed, the agenda moved on to Council finances.

Mel Kirkby reported a Bank balance over £7,000 and looking ahead could see that the Council should be substantially on target for a small surplus at the end of the year despite the inevitable pressures. Finances are always complicated and various issues were then raised and debated including:

  • Renewal of the insurance policy for Cocking Village Hall.  The Council decided to stay with the current insurance company.
  • The internal audit report. This was entirely satisfactory with some small issues such as a few missing receipts and initials on vouchers to be attended to.
  • Retrospective approval of previous audits and re-appointment of auditors.
  • VAT relating the Cocking Village Hall project. It was agreed to finally sort out the detail in time to incorporate any adjustments in the next VAT return.
  • Lack of clarity about the significant increase in fixed assets over last year.
  • Approval of the overdue Annual Return. It was agreed that the Council would approve it subject to the various adjustments already discussed.

Under the heading of Parish Matters, Gwen Miles raised the new village allotments. She reported that there were now only 3 applicants and that it was urgent to show progress. It was agreed that Richard Marks would help to prepare the ground, but that it would be necessary to get quotes for a contractor to spray the ground. The Secretary was asked to write to the remaining applicants with a progress report.

The overdue Parish Newsletter, previously discussed at the Parish Meeting was raised again and it was agreed to work with Gill Buchanan to revise the out of date version and issue it shortly.

Vacancies on the Council were then discussed and it was announced that Cllr. Sue Redshaw had resigned since the last meeting although no explanation was given. This now meant that there were three vacancies and it was resolved to issue co-opting letters next week. The Council recorded it thanks to Mrs Redshaw for her council work.

Unusually, this village website was discussed next as Gwen Miles, while acknowledging its independence, wanted it made clearer that reports of Council proceedings were not official in any way. For cocking.org, Mr. Birch pointed out that the status of the site had always been made clear on the front page* and that in the last 8 years this had only been raised once, by one person. He also offered to regularly publish the official minutes, suitably labelled, if the Council could arrange for a regular supply of the copy. 

David Imlach gave his Asset Manager Report. He said that the Green was looking good following mowing, that the bus shelter shad been pressure washed, shortly to be followed by the playground equipment. He thanked Mr and Mrs Budd in advance for the electricity and water supplies for the latter task. David stated that the bank at the bottom of the Village Hall entrance was now dangerous as it was overgrown and traffic leaving the site could not see traffic approaching. He said he intended to tackle the problem within the £150 budget.

David also raised the forthcoming Northern Forum which would take place on 18th June and bring representatives of 15 parishes to Cocking Village Hall. He informed the Council that it was customary for the host village to chair the meeting and Richard Marks agreed that he would do so.

The meeting closed at 8.11 p.m.

* Note: The 'Welcome' statement on the website at top left has been slightly amplified and readers should also note that articles are published in accordance with that statement and the full site policies that can be seen by clicking on this link.

In case anyone is confused, the Summary of the Council Meeting above is editorial matter and not the minutes of the meeting. It does not claim to be a verbatim account and although the intention of the author is to present a reasonably complete and balanced account, inevitably there are omissions and no other author would have created precisely the same article.

If you want to comment on this article or the proceedings of Cocking Parish Council itself, cocking.org would be delighted to help. The site has a Forum where members can post short comments, but if you want to publish an article (on any subject) please contact the Editor. 

Reward for Information on Vandalism to War Memorials

Written by The Editor on .

Crimestoppers LogoMany Cocking villagers will be aware of the RAF Bomber Command War Memorial in Green Park that contains a major sculpture by local artist Philip Jackson. You can refresh you memory by looking at our article on the Memorials unveiling from less than a year ago. The bad news is that two recent acts of vandalism have taken place at the Memorial along with a simliar attack at the Animals in War Memorial in nearby Park Lane. The sculpture itself does not seem to have been targeted, but slogans were painted defacing nearby walls.

Today, 6th June, the crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers have offered a potentially substantial reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of those responsible for the vandalism at the two war memorials. For further information see the Crimestoppers website.

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.

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