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.
30 November 2014
Christmas Lights switch on
Christmas Lights This was a long day for Town Council staff, with the Clerk and a key officer starting at 6:00 to organise the road closure in the market place and supervise the erection of the fun fair and stage. I had some work to catch up on in the morning, before heading off to the Town centre along with other Councillors to help as stewards with the Dereham Christmas Lights event. For the first time we had a 'continental market' as an extra attraction. One way or another I think there was something to interest almost everyone.

At 16:00 I disappeared to change from steward into 'Mayor' ready for the switch on scheduled for 16:30. Logistically, this was a bit of a problem because the lights were programmed to come on with a timer - I checked how accurately the clock was set and it was about a second and a half different from my radio watch. I now had to make sure the three of us who were to speak (Lt Colonel James Senior - C/O Light Dragoons and Rev. Cannon Sally Theakston and myself) finished at the correct time - I ended up filling in for the last minute to get to the correct time. Next year it will be easier with a switch. Afterwards, I changed back to steward to help for the next few hours, until it started to pack up at about 6:00pm.

Originally, we had only budgeted for a large Christmas tree in the centre of the market place. We had written to all the businesses in the market place asking if they would help support a larger lights display, but none of the 'big businesses' even answered. However, some local businesses and individuals wanted to do more and raised extra money which was added to from a council underspend on another budget we were able to purchase and install 8 new light frames. My thanks to all who contributed but a special acknowledgement goes to: Mark Piper from “The Barbers of Dereham” who raised money through selling his yearly Christmas Calendar and Claire Rawcliffe who raised money from a raffle.

The picture opposite was taken later in a storm, the tree survived! Some of the new lights are fastened above the adjacent shop fronts.

25 November 2014
Chaired: 'Plans' meeting
Dereham Town Council This was a busy session with a total of ten plans to consider. We were also due to insert and extra Personnel Committee meeting following the usual committees.

There was the usual mix of extensions and modifications, each of which was considered and comments logged appropriately. For the most part, the requests are perfectly reasonable and the Town Council is happy to recommend approval.

We were however, presented with a scoping report (not a planning application) for a very large development all along the southern boundary of Dereham, from Yaxham Road to Shipdam Road. This is another of the 'hostile' planning applications because Breckland Council don't have a 5-year house building supply and no Local Plan to say where new development should take place.

We received representation from local residents about taking over a piece of land so that it could be tidied and restored as open space. The land itself seems to be tied up with the deeds of neighbouring houses, so the first thing to establish is who owns what.

Another group of residents lobbied for some play equipment to be installed on other land, currently owned by Breckland council, but it would seem easily transferred if the Town Council was agreeable. While not against the suggestion the committee wished to do some wider research across the town to check demographics and access distances to appropriate play equipment.

Heritage and Open Spaces
The committee considered for applying to the County Council's Parish Partnership Scheme for match funding for two projects: A trod (loose surface foot-way) around gingerbread corner, a notoriously difficult place to walk on foot, and a SAM2 (speed reactive) sign.

There were updates on Badley Moor, an owl box in vicarage Meadows and we received a detailed report on progress and issues from Dereham's footpath warden, Ken Hawkins.

I suggested that it was not necessary to 'exclude press and public' when considering the boundary of the Napoleonic Store, on this occasions the chairman agreed.

Personnel Committee
As is usually the case much of the discussion followed 'exclusion of press and public' for obvious reasons.

12 November 2014
BUILD charity
CSV and Memorial Hall coffee shop
CSV This evening I was invited to attend the anniversary of the coffee shop at Memorial Hall. The coffee shop was a bonus which came about after the initial design phase of Memorial Hall's refurbishment. Our architects developed such a spectacular space we realised it could have a second use. The operation of a coffee shop by a franchise or ordinary business would be difficult because it would have to fit in around the other activities at the Hall. However, CSV have been able to help the Town Council's aspiration to be at the heart of the community and add value by running the coffee shop. In association with BUILD charity they have offered work experience and training opportunities for people with sensory, physical or learning disabilities.

Volunteers from across Europe have helped offer these learning experiences at the coffee shop.

This is my venue of choice whenever I need to meet someone, which happens from time-to-time in my role as Mayor. It is an excellent place to meet, talk and have coffee and biscuits (or cake).

11 November 2014
Chaired: 'Plans' and 'Full Council' meetings
Dereham Town Council Plans
Listed building consent to change the appearance of a new shop front in the Town Centre and permission to install uPVC double glazing at a school were uncontentiously accepted. Our remaining plan was for the football club to be (retrospectively) permitted to display and sell wooden cabins. This did cause some disquiet, with one member supportive because the football clubs needed to be able to raise extra funds if it was to do well; whereas other members concerned that it was not related to core activity, could be detrimental for parking and may be the start of a change of use.

Full Council
At the start of the Full Council meeting I requested members stand while we recall the first two soldiers from Dereham to die in the Great War:

Rifleman: Ernest Alfred BRUNTON
Bricklayer, of 6 London Road, East Dereham.
Served: 1st Battalion, Riffle Brigade
Died: 7-Nov-1914, aged 28

and also...

Private: James GRUMMETT
of Oxford Cottage, High Street, East Dereham.
Served: 1st Battalion, Norfolk Regiment
Died: 10-Nov-1914, aged 26

The meeting proceeded as usual with the normal ratification of recommendations from committees; although three recommendations from my Finance committee were deferred to allow the Personnel committee to comment. There followed the monthly overview of the Town Council's financial position and cheques to be issued.

The Council also agreed to sign the transfer documents taking over the play areas from the District Council. This saga has been progressing on-and-off for at least 15 years, with wrangling over maintenance costs, restrictive covenants and at one point the District Council considering if any of it could be hived off as building plots. While the Town Council has always been happy to accept this responsibility it should be noted that it comes at a very significant cost and only a very small part is coming from the District Council. Don't expect the Breckland Council tax contribution to go down as this expense is 'off-loaded', because all the indications are that it won't - Breckland Council can't be the 'cheapest council tax' AND provide facilities!

11 November 2014
Armistice Day at Northgate School
Armistice Day at Northgate School Along with representatives from the RAF, Cadets, Fire Service, Police and other guests I was invited to attend Northgate School's Armistice Day commemoration. The school has made a great effort to teach the magnitude of this world changing event across all subject departments. They have even built a life size fragment of a WWI trench as part of their studies.

Guests were were escorted in small groups to tour the school and were introduced to classes prior to the main commemoration service.

Today was the culmination of the work with the whole school joining the silence at 11:00

Armistice Day at Northgate School
9 November 2014
Remembrance Sunday

War Memorial
Dereham War Memorial from the back looking towards the
Market Place, with the Town council 'Assembly Rooms'
to the right.

There was an good turnout from the public for the Remembrance Sunday commemoration. I was joined by Larrent Bonnaterre, mayor of Caudebec lès Elbeuf as we laid wreaths at the war memorial.

On behalf of all Dereham residents I offered a wreath with the message:
Quote We often take for granted the very things that most deserve our gratitude.
We especially remember those from Dereham who fought and died. Quote

Wreaths were presented from around 20 organisations. Dereham band then led a precession through the town to St Nicholas Church for the remembrance service.

I was asked to read from St.John's gospel. Revd. Canon Sally Theakston then gave an excellent address about the meaning and symbolism of the poppy. It is particularly interesting to see how well the Anglican Church (as state religion) delivers an inclusive, almost secular, address when the congregation is not likely to be an active member of the church. The French do not have a state religion and therefore it is a very different civic framework.

Following the church service Mr Bonnaterre and I were interviewed by the Dereham Times before moving on to Meeting Point for refreshments.
8 November 2014
Caudebec twinning dinner
Following the official welcome of Larrent Bonnaterre and his partner Elise, the twinning association had organised a group dinner at the George hotel. As already mentioned previously, funding is quite rightly not permitted from the town budget and we all paid our own way.

Larrent's English is excellent, which is good because my French is more-or-less non-existent. It is fascinating to hear about the different ways the state is organised in France, but it is also very clear how similar we are really. There has clearly been a long and 'interesting' history between our two countries. From my perspective as a engineer, there have been some superb joint projects at the highest level, such as Concorde and the channel tunnel. Overall a strong link with France is vitally important both in terms of our economic and social development.

I am pleased we are able to maintain the connection with our neighbours in France and it will continue on a friendly, low-key, basis.
Twinning dinner
8 November 2014
Formal welcome of Mayor of Caudebec lès Elbeuf
French Flag Larrent Bonnaterre Today I formally welcomed for the first time to Dereham the Mayor of our French twin town Caudebec lès Elbeuf. Larrent Bonnaterre, accompanied by his partner Elise, had been formally invited to attend our Remembrance Sunday commemoration, recalling that 100 years ago we stood together in the great war.

At elections earlier this year Larrent Bonnaterre replaced the previous mayor who had served for 20 years. Although Caudebec is a little smaller than Dereham, the role of the Mayor is far more significant as it includes many of the function performed by the district Council (Breckland) in our system.

One of the new Mayor's first actions was to review budgets; funding for twinning was cut and a review of the number of twinning links. I am delighted that Larrent Bonnaterre has continued the connection with Dereham and that this is going to proceed on a much more equitable level. Rather embarrassingly the previous mayor had found a twinning budget that had far exceeded anything we could match. It should be noted that by law the Town Council can not directly fund twinning visits, although we do have a very modest civic budget.

6 November 2014
Toftwood Village Hall
Toftwood Village Hall AGM
Toftwood is served by a well equipped village hall. This relatively new building is regularly used by both organisation with repeat bookings and individual events. It is managed by a volunteer group of enthusiastic Toftwood residents. Age and ill health have led to some retirements, but others have stepped up to maintain the committee numbers. The finances have not changed dramatically over the last year with a small surplus being spent on improvements and replacement of equipment. There will be no change in booking fees for the following year.

The AGM was followed by tea and cake.

4 November 2014
Chaired: Finance Committee
Dereham Town Council While not strictly a function of the Mayor, as I have chaired this committee for the full term of this council. Chairman are elected each year, but often serve multiple terms. I am ably assisted by my deputy, Robert Hambidge. Our employment (I am self-employed and Robert is a farmer) mean that both of us have a day-to-day working knowledge of financial matters including VAT, tax, insurance etc., and we both regularly use spreadsheets and other computer tools. While the detail of Council's accounts is performed by the 'Responsible Financial Officer' (the Clerk) it is useful to be able to contribute to the process and I expect that is why were we elected as Chairman and vice-Chairman.

One of the more pleasant aspects award grants to help groups and organisations who directly benefit Dereham residents - there are strict rules, but this can have a very positive outcome. We also reviewed the current status of our budgetary spending, reviewed the 5-year capital budget, reviewed our insurance cover and received a report from the external auditors.