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.
23 September 2014
Chaired: 'Plans' meeting
Dereham Town Council Councillors were thin on the ground this evening with only four in attendance, which is enough to be quorate so the meeting proceeded. We were significantly outnumbered by members of the public who were in attendance for a subsequent committee meeting. There were five plans to consider, all but one in the town centre, no objections were raised although some comments and suggestions were recorded.

In light of the recent traffic congestion the planning committee considered requesting that a full Highways Assessment be made during the current local plan process; this was recommended during the previous local development framework, but it didn't happen. Perhaps the Town Council needs to be more insistent this time?

The chairman of the 'Recreation' committee was unable to attend, so deputy, Cllr Ann Bowyer, stood in to receive a progress report about our new play areas.

The large public attendance was to make representation to the 'Heritage and Open Spaces' committee about access to Badley Moor Common. I have mentioned this previously in the final Public Footpaths post (19 August) - legally it is a minefield, but the Clerk had done significant work to try and establish the applicable laws and processes prior to the meeting. The land owner and people wishing to gain access were both given equal opportunity to present their cases before the committee went into closed session to discuss the legal merits and what, if any, action to take. As I have said before, I don't like going 'below the line', but since there was a distinct possibility we could prejudice any future action during our discussions, on this occasion I am content to accept it was justified.

21 September 2014
Air Cadets at Battle of Britain
Battle of Britain Sunday
Today we remember the air battle fought over the sky’s of southern England in the summer of 1940, a pivotal event of WWII. If it had been lost the world would likely be a very different place today.

In the words of Sir Winston Churchill:
Quote The gratitude of every home in our Island, in our Empire, and indeed throughout the world, except in the abodes of the guilty, goes out to the British airmen who, undaunted by odds, unwearied in their constant challenge and mortal danger, are turning the tide of the World War by their prowess and by their devotion. Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few. Quote

Outnumbered, the RAF nevertheless defeated the Luftwaffe but we must be careful not glorify this event. We were at war which is a bad place for everyone and there were significant losses on both sides.

Along with representation from the Royal Air Forces Association (Dereham and Swaffham Branch) and Wing Commander Gilbert from RAF Marham, I received the salute as Dereham Band lead a march of veterans, reserves and cadets past the War Memorial through the town centre and on to St Nicholas Church Open's in new tab for the Battle of Britain service. The Queen's representative, Deputy Lord Lieutenant Holly Rawkins, was also in attendance.

18 September 2014
St Nicholas flower festival
St Nicholas Flower Festival
We were invited to the preview evening of the bi-annual flower festival at St Nicholas Church Open's in new tab. Accompanied by my wife who has a far more sensitive nose (useful around flowers) we spent an hour in wonder at the floral masterpieces. It is well worth a visit over the next few days.

Picture: The Revd Canon Sally Theakston and I bathe under the new church lighting. Not shown in the picture, a pencil beam highlights the inside of the arches of the nave, an inspired addition.

17 September 2014
CAB logo
Mid-Norfolk Citizens Advice Bureau AGM
The Mid-Norfolk CAB Open's in new tab annual general meeting took place at the Iceni Centre in Swaffham. I would have attended in my role as 'observer' on behalf of the Town Council and on that basis I didn't take the formal 'chain'. However, I was formally thanked (as Mayor) for the civic reception, apparently this had resulted in some useful contacts for CAB and some donations to funds.

The accounts were presented, which showed that like-for-like contributions have fallen, in fact the Bureau has uses reserves to maintain its current service. A large collaborative project (Breckland Advice Project) has swelled the coffers, but this is a ring-fenced fund to be shared with others so can not be used for the core service. The Town Council will review the figures prior to making our allocated grant contribution; I am pleased to say the Town Council does make a decent contribution to CAB.
15 September 2014
International Scout Symbol
Norfolk Scout AGM
The Norfolk Scout AGM was held at Northgate School this evening. Scout leaders from across the county met to appoint the executive committee, accept nomination to the Norfolk Scout Council and present awards to various long serving leaders and high achieving Scouts.

There was an interesting presentation from Caroline Pantling, Archive & Heritage Manager of The Scout Association based at Gilwell Park. Despite a laptop / projector failure she carried on admirably.

15 September 2014
Norfolk Battle of Britain Commemoration
Spitfire Today is the official day for the commemoration although most towns choose the Sunday either before or after today. Dereham's commemoration takes place on 21 September.

Norfolk County Council's commemoration took place at St Peter Mancroft church in Norwich (in front of the Forum). Prior to the service there was a flypast of a spitfire, maybe the same one which I had seen in Dereham at noon.

The service was taken by Reverend Canon Peter Noakes. After a short consultation with the congregation and uniquely in my experience he started the service 15 minutes early. I was rather impressed with the presentation style, without the need to introduce each particular hymn or reading, it was clearly laid out in the order of service and just flowed neatly.

Wow, the organist had a heavy foot on the swell pedal, which was excellent as it means I could also sing the hymns as loud as I liked without any danger of upsetting anyone.

Tea and sandwiches (unusually without a vegetarian option - so not for me!) were provided at the Assembly House afterwards. I took the opportunity to thank The Reverend Canon Noakes for his excellent delivery.

15 September 2014
Flo Mann service
Memorial Service for Flo Mann
St Nicholas Church was full, even after extra seats were put out it was standing room only at the back. Such was the response to a service celebrating the life of Florence Mary Mann (14 Dec 1924 - 25 Aug 2014). While we were queuing waiting to go in an RAF Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight made three passes directly over the Church. This was actually part of the Battle of Britain commemoration, but it felt like an extra special contribution to teh service.

Flo had dedicated her time to voluntary service in Dereham with St. John's Ambulance and at Dereham hospital. As a life long volunteer she has made a significant contribution to our Town; as Mayor I present the whole Town's thanks and recognise her tremendous life. Flo was a key member of our community and had she still been with us would have come to my Civic Reception as one of the St. John's volunteers.

Unfortunately I was unable to attend the reception after the church service as I had a further commitment in the afternoon.

14 September 2014
Watton Town Logo
Watton Civic Service
I only had time for a quick cup of tea at home before setting out to Watton. Mayor, John Rogers selected the Pentecostal Church for his Civic Service, this was the polar opposite of my Civic Reception. The Pastor, Neil Startling, had to work quite hard because not only did he lead the service but he also played the electric organ.

The Pastor took the beatitudes Open's in new tab as the text of his address. He postulated a series fairly strong faith statements demonstrating the existence of God and how we must be reconciled to God. The Pastor was clearly a well respected and capable man within his church but considering that guests may have had different or no religious affiliation, I felt this to be an ill-judged choice.

14 September 2014
Civic Sunday Reception - tin mountain
My Civic Sunday Reception
The very first post on this blog refers to Dereham Times article titled:
Quote New Dereham mayor Timothy Birt hopes to help town’s community heroes. Quote

This seems like a perfect opportunity to promote some of those heros. I am delighted and honoured by the magnificent response; in addition to the usual 'civic list' we had representation from some of the voluntry groups who make Dereham a great place. Space was limited so these were only a small selection of the many groups I could have invited, I hope to do more in the future. There were exhibition stands in the Gallery and an fantastic response to my request for contributions to the food bank - a proper tin mountain, which after the event was weighed at 202kg.

I asked six guests to briefly give us an insight into what their groups do. These vary from those who add to our quality of life and give Dereham a real buzz to those at the other end of the spectrum who help and support people who have fallen on hard times.

Civic Sunday - Band
Order of Events:
Friends of Dereham Memorial Hall - Tim Cara
Dereham Access Group - Julian King and Linda West
Mid-Norfolk Citizens Advice Bureau - Roger Margand and Mandy Lewis

A musical interlude was provided by the Northgate School Band with their music teacher Cathy Brooks. They had only being back from the summer holiday for a week and had time for just one rehearsal session, but still produced a superb upbeat performance to the obvious delight of us all.

Mid-Norfolk Food Bank - Andrew Frere-Smith (pictured with me above)
Norfolk Fire & Rescue in association with the Prince's Trust - Stuart Horth
Friend's of Dereham Windmill - Alison and Brian Webb

At the conclusion of the formal presentations refreshments were provided and I encouraged guests to give town wide feedback: what is good about Dereham, where improvements were needed. We are still sifting through the suggestions, there are some good themes emerging which will helps the Council know where to concentrate effort. The excellent Northgate band provided some additional background music.

My sincere thanks to everyone who took part in this slightly unconventional Civic Sunday Reception.

I am preparing a separate page with pictures and more detail, a link be posted here in due course.

9 September 2014
Chaired: 'Plans' and 'Full Council' meetings
Dereham Town Council We have had an upgrade to the Dereham map we use to identify location and proximity within the town - a new laminated copy with better resolution. Additionally, a new (re-purposed) oval table to make committee meeting more cabinet style with the chairman in the middle. This is going to take a little getting used to because my usual chairing technique of initially allowing everyone to 'throw ideas in' before calling order and then distilling it into a considered response from individual Councillors (who should be allowed to speak uninterrupted) didn't work quite so well.

Just four plans but one is quite visually important the north of the town at Gingerbread corner (the cottage there looks like a gingerbread house, made from iron rich sandstone). We also considered making additional comments based on new information about the 'hostile' application below and making representation about the lack of public scrutiny of financial details deemed to be "commercially confidential".

At 'Full Council' we received a street report and review of the monthly crime figures from two of our PCSOs. There are the usual issues associated typically with young men and cars but overall a calm month.

The remainder of the meeting was a the normal presentation from the various committees and ratification of their recommendations; followed by the monthly overview of the Town Council's financial position and cheques to be issued. I am reluctant to 'exclude press and public' also known as going "below the line" unless absolutely essential, but we had two matters which clearly met the criteria for discussion in private - the published minutes will still fully detail any decision of the Town Council.

1 September 2014
Dereham Youth Forum
Dereham Youth Forum

I have been invited to the Dereham Youth Forum to present certificates at their awards ceremony and join in their end of season BBQ. I am delighted to support this type of event.

Dereham doesn't have a central 'youth club' as such but that function has been partly provided in The Baptist Church as part of the activities of the Dereham Youth Forum. They have undertaken a wide variety of activities over the summer holidays which include trips out to places like 'Pleasurewood Hills' and 'Funky Monkeys', as well as setting out with litter pick equipment and buckets of soapy water to help keep Dereham clean and tidy. Encouraging volunteering is a key part of the DYF, from the video shown at the award ceremony it looks like they had as much fun cleaning street signs as with the out-of-town visits.

1 September 2014
Breckland District Council Logo
Breckland District Council Planning Committee

Today is decision time for the 'hostile' planning mentioned below. The committee meeting is open to the public and I attend along with around 60 residents. I could have spoken, but having already made my views very clear, it was decided to go with usual protocol and let the Town Clerk express the views of the Town Council. Only three minutes are allowed so if I had opted to speak the time would have been shared.

Breckland District Council officers who recommended acceptance of the application gave a surprisingly poor presentation, to a certain extent they seemed to simply default in favour of the application in spite of all the issues - I don't know if this is becasue they feel the developers have a 'golden ticket' and it isn't worth objecting or something else?

The Norfolk County Council highways officer admitted the traffic data was out-of-date and pretty much gave up when questioned. A representative from the NHS Clinical Commissioning Group expressed concern over the extra strain this would bring to Dereham's GPs.

With so many issues unanswerable it was an easy decision by Breckland Councillors to defer the decision, pending proper assessment and answers. This is probably the best outcome, because if they had refused consent outright, the applicant was likely to appeal to the planning inspectorate and everything would be out of local hands - so much for the Localism Act!

The site map below was produced in 2010, so this saga has been brewing for a long time and I can't imagine it will go away any time soon. We need to fix what appears to be a seriously broken planning system before it breaks all of us!
Dumpling Green Plan