Cocking's Annual Parish Meeting for 2014 was held at its usual venue, Cocking Village Hall, on Wednesday 21st May.
Parish Council Chair, Richard Marks, welcomed approximately 20 parishioners and after a few introductory words the audience was treated to a presentation by Canine Partners, the charity founded in 1990 and based at nearby village Heyshott.
Canine Partners Presentation
Andy Sims and his wife Sue explained that they were volunteers who trained puppies destined to become the assistance dogs who help make the lives of their disabled owners easier and more comfortable. Andy did most of the talking and their lovely and lively young labrador Toffee, handled by Sue, did most of the tail wagging.
The audience was surprised to hear that there are up to 130 dogs like Toffee going through training at any one time. Initially, they live with volunteers such as Andy and Sue whilst undertaking a basic training that starts when they are about 8 weeks old. In addition to general socialisation and obedience, the regime is designed to give the puppies three fundamental skills that can be built on and combined; eventually enabling them to undertake useful and complex tasks such as fetching the post, undressing their owners, shopping and clothes washing.
Sue and Toffee demonstrated the three core skills of touching, tugging and retrieving and it was fascinating to see how these could be developed into an end product, when, for example, Toffee showed that he could raise Sue from a bed by tugging on a rope she was holding and then fetch her shoes and crutches to help her get up. Toffee was obviously enjoying what was only his second public appearance and although trained to be quiet, he became excited and gave his only bark of the evening when asked to 'get help' for his owner.
Andy explained that following basic training, at 15-16 months old the dogs receive a further 4 - 5 months advanced training with experts at Heyshott before being united with their new disabled owners during a two week intensive residential course. Even after going home with their owners, the dogs receive seven visits from Canine Partners in their first year as assistance dogs and at least two per annum thereafter. Canine Partners also provide 24 x 7 support for life.
The audience also learned that it costs about £20,000 to train and support each assistance dog and that the Charity is wholly funded by public donation and sponsorship. Schemes such as 'Adopt a Puppy' were mentioned as were the Charity's Summer Show (July 5th) and the regular information sessions held at Heyshott.
For further details of the work of Canine Partners, see their website at http://www.caninepartners.org.uk/ or follow them on social media via Twitter: @canine_partners or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/caninepartners
After a lot of questions, Toffee and the Sims were allowed to leave and the annual Parish Meeting resumed.
The minutes of last year's Parish Meeting held on 16th May 2013 (click here to see them), had been circulated and drew no comments or questions.
Under the heading of The Year's Work, Richard Marks next drew attention to a few highlights such as the opening of the Cocking Allotments, which now had two users with the expectation of more, especially when planned improvements such as the laying on of a water supply were in place.
He also mentioned the new development at The Croft that was nearing completion and thanked former Parish Council Chair Frances Russell and former local District Councillor John Cherry for their efforts in ensuring a local link was forged. He said that this principle had been taken on board not only in Cocking, but nationally, giving local people priority for local housing developments.
Richard presented the annual Chairman's Report from Gill Buchanan, Chair of the Village Hall Committee, thanking Gill and the Committee for all their hard work over the year. The report was another of the papers circulated and it can be viewed by clicking here.
The next Agenda item, The Asset Manager's Report was delivered in person by David Imlach.
David started by reporting some vandalism to village assets that had needed his attention. In particular the notice board near The Croft had been damaged last Christmas. He had received and installed a thicker replacement acrylic cover from Stewart Plastics in Midhurst, who had generously made no charge. He also reported that the bus shelter near Milestone Garage had been noticeably tidier this year with less evidence of its use for late night drinking. A couple of its window panes had however been pushed out and had been replaced.
Other items mentioned by David were:
- the provision of two salt bins.
- the removal of trees around the Children's Play Area for safety reasons. Two of the bases had now been cleared and planted with flowers.
- the much delayedl removal of the village Christmas Tree, for which he apologised, explaining that contractors were busy with storm damage and this job therefore became a low priority.
- In relation to the Children's Play Area, he was expecting work to start on repairs and repainting over the next three weeks, supported with funding from Scottish & Southern Energy. There was no new equipment yet although Peter O'Neill was looking into a bid to the National Lottery that could help if successful.
- There had been complaints about dog fouling, especially in Crypt Lane. David had a supply of stickers reminding dog walkers to remove their dog's fouling.
As there were no questions on the Asset Manager's Report, David continued by delivering a short update on traffic through Cocking, in particular the problem of speeding.
He said that Cocking now had a high profile as a result of his attendances at the Chichester District Council's North Forum, a meeting with the Police Commissioner Katie Bourne and his membership of a think tank on Making Sussex Safer.
He said that a new 30mph flashing sign would be put up on the bend into Cocking at the Midhurst end. On SID ('speed guns'), he said that although it had originally been said that we could not use one due to our narrow pavements, the matter had been reconsidered and the use of SID devices was very likely to be allowed. Use of SIDs would require volunteers to stand on the Children's Play Area side of the A286 near Chris Budd's house in order to deter speeding. He pointed out that there would be no reporting to the Police at this stage, but that with or without SID, irresponsible driving in Cocking or anywhere else could be reported to Operation Crackdown.
David also pointed out other developments and issues such as:
- Use of the Police camera van during the Goodwood 72nd Members' meeting
- Despite 20mph signs, attendees of the Breakfast Meetings had managed to spray road chippings from the newly surfaced A286
- He would stand by the road in a high visibility jacket for future meetings when possible
- Goodwood Estates would not print advice on their tickets unless the printing costs were paid for
- A stand at Goodwood had been placed in a far from prominent position
- Signs advertising South Downs Way walkers crossing the A286 would be erected on Cocking Hill to deter rapid acceleration by drivers leaving the village 30mph zone
- The National Park Authority had not been of any assistance in relation to speeding to date
- David would be putting up some 'Stop Speeding' signs himself
- One third of drivers prosecuted for speeding are local residents
As questions from the floor started, the Revd Canon Dr Colin Bradley rose to express his appreciation for all the work done by Parish Councillors. He said that he realised how difficult it was to find councillors and how frustrating they must find their work at times. He added that it was sad that many more people did not attend Council meetings. Richard Marks added his personal thanks to David Imlach for the work he had done, not only on the speeding issue, but generally in terms of maintenance and other matters. He extended his thanks to all the other councillors for their efforts over the year.
Several questions and points were then raised by residents of Bell Lane attending the meeting. They were particularly disturbed by the speed of agricultural traffic down the lane, erosion to the banks and passing places being 'designated' in residents' driveways. They wanted the 30mph sign moved back towards, or onto, the old railway bridge and better speed limit enforcement. David Imlach commented that despite their concerns there had been no reports to the Police or Operation Crackdown, and encouraged residents to do so. He added that one good thing in relation to traffic speed in the area was that quarry lorries were now more speed limit compliant following representations and the fact that the Parish Council was represented on the Pendean Quarry Group. He believed that one driver had even been sacked following a speeding prosecution.
The final Agenda Item was the Finance Report, delivered by Mel Kirkby, Clerk to the Parish Council.
Mel had circulated a copy of the provisional accounts (click here to see them). He reported that in the year ended 31st March 2014, the Parish Council had shown a surplus of £3,347 compared with £87 last year, £421 the year before and deficits in previous years when the Village Hall project was active. He pointed out that much of the Council's expenditure was unavoidable and fixed, while the income from the Parish Precept had been fixed at £13,000 for the last three years. In that context he said that good progress was now being made towards building up a sensible reserve, equal perhaps to a year's expenditure. Such a reserve would enable the Council to cope with any unforseen call that might be made upon it.
No questions or comments were raised about the accounts and Richard Marks thanked Mel for presenting them and for the way he had undertaken the role of Clerk to the Parish Council. He explained that Mel would be leaving due to other work commitments. Mel added that he would stay on until replaced and to see through the audit of the annual accounts for which he had been responsible. Chair, Richard Marks, then closed the meeting, thanking Gill Buchanan for the very professional newsletter that she had produced and in response to a suggestion from the floor, agreeing to look into the possibility of producing a printed village directory to increase cohesion and help villagers to get assistance from their neighbours.
After the meeting closed, everyone enjoyed the food and drink that had been laid on by Diana Griffiths and took the opportunity to discuss matters with fellow attendees.