Mayor's blog

Engagements & Activities

This is a time-line of some events I have undertaken. The comments are my informal response and are not the official opinion of Dereham Town Council.

24 June 2014
Dereham Town Council
Chaired: Plans meeting
As expected there was a large public representation, so many that we considered moving from the committee room to the assembly room upstairs, but in the end we just fitted in. I moved the wind turbine item to the top of the agenda and suspended the meeting to receive comments from those present. There were some very reasonable concerns along with the usual nebulous 'house prices' and 'blight' comments. I feel many of the concerns could have been allayed with a better summary document with the planning application rather than the technical documents required by the process.

Despite my bad wind turbine experience I am generally quite happy with the technology and for balance I presented some potential solutions to the concerns raised. The size and location seem fine to me, especially compared with other large turbines in the area. However as stated before, the decision is NOT mine, but ours collectively. The Town Councillors made a number of planning comments about the proposal and then I took a vote on whether simply comment or to formally oppose the application, a majority wished to formally oppose the plan.

We proceeded to our other items; the public were invited to stay but none did so. The request by Weatherspoon's pub to demolish a listed building to make way for a beer garden was unanimously opposed in the strongest terms. While new flood lights and fencing on the all weather five-a-side pitch was treated more favourably.

Following the plans meeting, there are two committee meetings: 'Markets & Buildings' followed by 'Social & Welfare'.
17 June 2014
Dereham OS map of 1946
Public footpaths
Councillors have been invited to walk all the public footpaths in our parish (and beyond). The walks have been arranged by Ken Hawkins the Town Council's footpath warden, with the object of reviewing how to best manage them.

The County Council is supposed to keep all footpaths in order, but as we know the budget is tight. While we will not loose any public routes, we do need to identify which routes are the highest priority for maintenance and signing. There maybe additions / modifications to the 'definitive map' which need to be actioned and possible 'claims' for historic routes which have fallen out of use but with Dereham's expansion might be appropriate to re-open. The Town Council will only pursue reasonable claims, there has to be genuine usefulness to make the effort worthwhile.

With a good turnout and perfect weather we had an enjoyable evening; there is a general consensus to meet again in a couple of weeks to explore further.

17 June 2014
Dereham Windmill
Windmill - Biffa Award Finalist
Dereham Windmill has been short-listed for a prestigious national award at the 2014 Biffa Awards, a ceremony which recognises the people who transform their communities through Biffa Award funded projects.

Today, I accompanied trustees Brian and Alison Webb, Cllr Ann Bowyer, Pauline Robinson and Carrol Parfitt during the visit of the Biffa Award judge. Dereham Windmill has already reached the final in the 'Cultural Facilities' category and is against three other organisations. The Trustees and Friends have done a stunning job and we await the judges announcement on 9 October.

15 June 2014
Thetford Stuart Wright and self
Thetford Civic Reception
Thetford Town Council Thetford's Mayor Sylvia Armes lead a precession from King's House to St Cuthbert's Church. Following the church Civic Service it is on to the Guildhall for light refreshments.

It is interesting to compare the formalities of the different Town Councils: Thetford is definitely all about the pomp and ceremony with Councillors gowned in formal robes, protected by the 'Sword of State' and 'Great Mace'. These quirks from history don't do much for me, but as long as they don't get in the way good inclusive decision making I guess they do little harm. There is a rigorous order (hierarchy?) to the seating plan at Thetford Town Council meetings, with the longest serving / oldest members first. This is a bit strict - almost like an old school room. I wonder is there 'detention after Council' for anyone who misbehaves and sits in the wrong seat?

I took the opportunity to have a catch up with the Thetford Clerk and previous Mayor, Stuart Wright (pictured), who I have met a few times over the last year.

10 June 2014
Dereham Town Council
Chaired: 'Plans' and 'Full Council' meetings
I am keen to continue the more 'relaxed' style of meetings which have developed over the last few years. There are strict rules about debate in the Council's 'Standing Orders', but I hope these will not be required too often.

The Dereham 'Full Council' meeting is where recommendations from committees are formally accepted (or otherwise) and any urgent business can be considered. There is also a slot for public participation and this month we received a short presentation from 'Christians Against Poverty' a debt counselling service, it was clearly stated the service is not just for Christians.

Some Councillors find the minutiae of detail we sometimes have to consider rather tedious and indeed this meeting included the approval of our Accounting Statement for 2014/15 and the Governance Statement for 2013/14, which I accept is rather dry.

I said I would like to continue the relaxed style of the current town Council but I had to bang the gavel to call order when the meeting became so informal that a Councillor wandered off to to discuss another mater while the meeting was in session ... doh, I clearly haven't quite got the balance right yet!

4 June 2014
RAF Marham
Annual Formal Reception at RAF Marham
Dereham has good links with RAF Marham, especially for ceremonial events such as Battle of Britain and Remembrance Day. This event is traditionally one of the first for a new appointment, but I have attended previously as a deputy.

The event was hosted by the Station Commander, Group Captain Harvey Smyth, to whom we were formally introduced in the usual way. After a few pleasantries we were escorted to our respective small groups, accompanied by an RAF trainee to act as group host. Unfortunately the young lady assigned to our group had not read the page which said 'don't mention politics' and started with 'what about UKIP'? Later she commented about the 'Greens single policy' without realising my affiliation ... ooops; quite amusing really but I guess she is not yet ready to host a major international diplomatic event.

This year as well as the traditional high speed low pass of a Tornado, we were promised a fly past of a Spitfire. Disappointingly, thundery showers meant that the Spitfire was cancelled, however a Tornado was due to fly over at 19:27. According to my watch the aircraft passed over our heads at 19:27:02, not bad. Car alarms were triggered as the aircraft climbed steeply with afterburner on.

2 June 2014
Friends of Memorial Hall
Joined 'Friends of Dereham Memorial Hall' meeting
The 'Friends' are a group set up to support the use of Dereham's largest public building. The Town Council owned War Memorial Hall was fully refurbished a couple of years ago to general acclaim, we are delighted at the increasing variety of uses the Hall sees.

They are an enthusiastic group who have already arranged an impressive range of events. Different people lead the organising of individual events with the whole group contributing - bringing in outside help whenever required, overall it's an enlightened collaborative way of working. I was pleased to see how realistic attendance figures were matched to costs, not that everything has to make a surplus, but rather that any expected deficits are kept small so that cross subsidising is appropriately managed.

I am pleased to take back some of their ideas and requests to the Town Council, which may help to promote and increase the use of the Hall further.

20 May 2014
Handover as reported in Dereham Times
Click the image to open the original Dereham Times Article.
Appointment as Mayor
At the Annual Town Meeting I received the honour of being elected Mayor of Dereham.

Having served as Deputy to Kate Millbank for the previous year, this appointment was likely to be the normal course of events, but there is no absolute guarantee that the Deputy inherits 'the chain'. I have not been afraid to speak out over the years and there have been occasions of significant disagreement; I certainly would not have been surprised if there was opposition to my appointment. However, on the night I was unanimously elected.

There were only a few members of public in attendance, one being a long standing friend, who made a public announcement reported in the minutes as:
Quote Mr Osborn said that he had know Councillor Birt for 25 years, he is honest, decent and hard working and he is proud to know him. Quote

His statement was greeted with applause from all in the Council chamber, wow I had absolutely no idea that was the general feeling, I am deeply humbled.

For the record, the Mayor does not have any special power; all decisions remain the prerogative of the Council as a whole by democratic majority. However, there is an opportunity to organise some Civic Events and it will come as no surprise that I would like to do something a little different, maybe a 'thank you' to some of the groups who operate out of the limelight.