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.