The council’s second full meeting online was held on the 29th of June, in the middle of changeable weather and the gradual lifting of Corona Virus restrictions. Held once again via Microsoft Teams, Mayor Lee Upcraft chaired the meeting with a custom zoom background of a rainbow.

54 people were present for the virtual meeting, which once again started with registered members of the public being invited to speak. Seventeen people had registered to do so, with each given two minutes – and asked not to repeat points if they were previously made. The public comments were grouped by topic to help make them easier to address.

The first topic from the public to speak on was the arts development plan. A local group of artists offered to help shape the proposal going forward, raising concerns over the budgetary definitions of public art. A member of the arts group was asked to get in touch with the group.

Second was the climate emergency declared at the previous meeting, including the motions on the agenda related to that. The motions tabled included the possible cancellation of three annual town events – Bunkfest, the Car Rally, and the Fireworks. The comments recieved included questioning the use of the figures in the motion without context, as well as suggesting that the motions are political in nature.

Further, the scope and power of the council to cancel local events they do not run, as well as the procedural aspect of accepting the agenda motion at all were questioned. The impact on the reputation of the Council of these motions were also raised by a number of speakers. While there were many passionate members of the public speaking on this, most if not all were in support of the declaration of the climate emergency, but against the motion for economic, procedural, reputational or other reasons.

Thirdly the issues surrounding a councillor on the planning committee who was removed from that post at the last meeting were raised. Issues of public trust in the councillor and the council at large were submitted, as well as respect for the planning procedure in the future. There were specific statements regarding the status of the property of Bridge House, which is central to the issues raised.

The councillor in question issued a robust reply regarding the allegations, giving a detailed reply and stating the position of himself and that of the planning office from SODC, including ongoing legal action.

The issue of litter and fires on public grounds were raised, with a number of injuries to animals being listed, as well as the fire brigade having been called to a fire on the Bullcroft recently. Proposals including additional CCTV and bins, as well as educational programmes. The speaker was invited to the Parks and Gardens committee.

The final public-raised issue was a statement from the medical practice regarding the growth in population served, as well as a future mandate to expand and provide mental health support. A request for the Council to lobby the Oxfordshire NHS Trust to assist the practice in expanding the footprint of the practice as it expands was received.

An endorsement was requested for the website, a locally run directory of shop opening times in the town. The Mayor suggested that an upcoming revamp of the Council website may be able to include this information in the near term.

The Mayor’s notices followed, with the news of the sad passing of Betty Atkins, a former three term Mayor and strong supporter of the town.
Councillors were requested, when dealing with the public regarding issues on the Kinecroft near the Coach and Horses, to not treat the landlord as responsible for the whole Kinecroft.

Following this, the District Councillors spoke, supporting the Doctor’s surgery issues, and speaking regarding parking enforcement. It will be February 2022 on the revised time-line for the implementation of a parking enforcement plan, designed to tackle illegal parking across the region, including in Wallingford. The prospect of additional parking being made available was suggested.

The local plan was also spoken to, with the number of developers engaging with the process noted among a critcism of suggested plans from Oxford County Council.

Following this there were a number of technical motions regarding accepting minutes etc. A Beekeeping policy was also adopted.

Issues regarding the future expansion of the Medical Practice were discussed, including input from the neighbourhood plan group.

The sports field adjacent to the practice has been designated as not for development in the Town Plan, restricting options including the suggestion from the surgery to expand car parking into the field – allowing the existing car park to be developed. This was seen by the practice as preferable as it would keep them in proximity to the community hospital.

A suggestion of moving the center to the SODC council site in Crowmarsh was suggested, and supported by a number of councillors.

An overview of the Landscape Architect Report was read, giving a precis of the plan to support and maintain the Bullcroft, Kinecroft and the Motte in the castle grounds. The report suggests a plan of works to restore the protected earthworks, including the removal of saplings and the implementation of two footpaths in the Bullcroft. Public Awareness sessions were proposed in order to educate the public prior to works being carried out. Some work has been ongoing into sourcing funding for the above works, as well as for repairs due to the town hall.

The Neighbourhood plan consultation is open until the 11th August, with hardcopies available from Londis and KP stationers. 

The SODC Local plan is now with the examiner, with the council having made representations regarding the definition of the shopping area in town as well as to the density of housing. The part in respect to Wallingford is due for hearing on the 5th of August, at which councillors will be present to speak. It was agreed that the Mayor would represent the Council.

It was then suggested that the Union Flag be flown from the Town Hall on a daily basis, with a view to smartness and pride being put forward. A supported counter suggestion was to fly the town flag, if any. A matter of flag protocol was briefly touched upon, as well as the wear on flags themselves.
The proposal that a flag is flown permanantly from the town hall was passed, with a proposal for the Union Flag to be flown in place of the Town flag being voted against. As such, the Town flag will be flown on a permanant basis where no other flag is flown.

An update on an Agatha Christie bronze statue to be placed outside of the museum – shown left – was given, summarising that beyond the source of funds everything is in hand for this to move forward. Public donations would be requested to help fund the statue, said to support local tourism and town pride.

A motion to expand council funding  earmarked from £10,000 to meet half of the costs was forwarded. This would include £40,000 from the £70,000 in the current arts grant. A wider discussion on the use and restrictions of the arts money was undertaken.

It was agreed to not alter funding at this time.

The Arts Working Party asked for the Public Arts Strategy Plan to be accepted. It was noted that the plan may include items not covered as art (such as street lighting and playground equiment), and that it may need to be revisited. The working party defended their plan as having been vetted by an artistic advisor throughout. A brief discussion on the nature of art was held.

This was not limited to:
Is art a work created by an artist? Is it something that enhances its environment? Must art have no practical purpose?

After this discussion, the arts strategy was voted on and carried.

Moving out of lockdown restrictions – Following a period of research, the location of the buses pausing in the town square was identified as a major issue for pedestrians, especially while queues for shops are being held on the pavements. These queues and pedestrians also interact with the bus stop queues themselves. A suggestion was made that the council works with the bus company to restrict or remove the bus’ access to the center temporarily. Benefits to easing congestion, as well as the negative issues for those of limited mobillity were discussed. The motion was carried and the council will approach the bus company for discussion.

It was also suggested that signage for drivers be added, warning of pedestrians in the road – be this a ‘friendly’ sign, or a Highway Code old people crossing sign. A further suggestion was to apply for a 20mph zone, however this was not on the agenda and so could not be voted on.

The proposal for some informal signage was voted on and passed.

At two hours and 35 minutes into the meeting, the proposed cancellation of local events to meet the Climate Emergency Declaration passed at the last meeting was reached. It was noted that the prior meeting passed that the council would engage with local groups and work proactively towards lowering the environmental impact of the councils actions.

The thrust of the motion appeared to be highlighting the perceived discrepancy between declaring an emergency – an act of requiring immediate action – or taking measures over time to reduce environmental impact of the events and the council in general. It was noted that over 250 councils have passed climate emergencies and not put yet put forward a meaningful plan to implement any changes.

The Councillor who proposed the motion spoke against the cancellation of the events, embracing the controversy with a view to highlight the suggested hypocrisy of the climate declaration, as well as having got the general public engaged in the climate change debate.

The motion to cancel the events was not proposed, and the motion was not voted on.

Following this, as submissions to overturn the prior Climate Emergency had not been received from the required number of Councillors, this motion was also not voted on.

A more general discussion regarding the environmental issues the council can control was entered into. 

This involved reiterating the committment for carbon neutrality by 2030, among proposals for initiating the changes required to meet this target.

It was noted that there are a number of interested parties in the local area, and that everyone’s views should be brought together into a working group with an intention of making progress in developing meaningful changes with urgency.

A statement that the big CO2 reductions that could be made should be done via influencing the local plan and housing developments, as well as reducing the use of petrol and diesel engines via transport planning, was made. It was also suggested to make the working party non political, however this was rebutted for the benefit of keeping all voices heard, as well as being counter to standing orders on limiting membership of committees.

As the time limit for the meeting is set at three hours, the Mayor moved for short closing statements. There was a proposal tabled that a climate change working group be established, and that it is to make recommendations not decisions to full council. This was passed.

The Mayor finally offered congratulations to a Councillor for their new child. The meeting ended just short of three hours.

— The above is a news story based on our being present at the meeting, and is as accurate as possible. No mis-attribution or mis-reporting is intended. If any alterations are requested, please email Wallingford Radio. By the nature of the motions regarding the event cancellations and the planning issues specifically, we have attempted to represent these as independent and neutrally as possible while attempting to communicate the feelings expressed by those Councillors involved.