Welcome one and all to this, the summary of the 3rd online full council meeting, brought to you by Wallingford Radio. The heat may have got to us a bit today, however we are waiting with tea in hand to witness the next three hours (estimated) of local governance in action. Today’s meeting starts in silence with the sound of an airplane circling the town in the background as we await all the councilors navigating various IT issues. The meeting eventually starts with 28 in the room, including councilors and staff. Mayor Lee’s background this time round is the splash park – a teaser for things to come?

The meeting starts off with the normal technical declarations, before then moving on to the public part of the meeting. Three people are due to speak today.

First up was a member of the public speaking on tree planting in the local area. The local group – Wallingford and Cholsey Tree Planting Group – has been fundraising for, well, more tree planting and was bringing their cause to the council’s attention, as well as requesting their support with some possible funding in the future. Their just giving page can be found here if you’d like to have a look. There was a brief query regarding the specifics of the plan, however as this is an agenda item the information was received and held for later.

Following was a public query with regards to litter picking and general tidiness. This was a wide ranging query, however encompassed the upcoming SODC signage campaign addressing public littering. With regards specifically to littering at the beach and in the Bullcroft, he had raised this direct with SODC with a view to getting the wider council involved.

There was a request to hold another litter pick, in conjunction with the Wallingford 1155 group, during the Keep Britain Tidy event later in the year. The proposed dates are the 20th or 27th Sept, (later confirmed by Wallingford 1155 as to be held on the 20th). The last pick was held in March and is a great event for the town, supported by Grundon. The mayor gave the council’s informal assent to the private initiative, and asked to be kept in the loop.

Third was a representative of the gym on the high street. He reported a lot of ongoing work in getting the gym ready for members again, having been closed for the last four months.
He asked for permission to use the rear access to the site for people attending classes, this being relevant as the car park to the rear belongs to the council.

Having made a detailed risk assessment, and stressing the temporary nature of the request (around 6 weeks), the matter was rested for later for the council to discuss and vote on.

The district councilor report came next, starting with a summary of the current heat-wave across Surrey, Italy and California, pivoting to linking housing development with climate change. This carried on for a time, including several swipes at the national government. Following a prompt for time keeping from the Mayor, the speech finished by taking in the effects of the new town plan on the town moving forward, the councilor painting a bleak view on the future.

The Mayor’s communications followed, with details of a smaller than usual ceremony at the Andrew and Wilding Service.
The Rememberance Sunday service is being consulted on, with a view to streaming it online to allow the public to participate. Both of these events are being arranged with a view to smaller events than usual, due to crowd restrictions under the COVID-19 guidelines.

Craig Simpson was congratulated by the Mayor and others for his efforts in clearing signs around the town, an initiative taken on his own.

The splash park has remained closed this year, with reasons provided by the contractor including a lack of available staff due to redeployment as well as the unknown transmission of COVID-19 in the waters. There will be early engagement with them in the new year, with a view to getting the splash park open for next summer.

The Corn Exchange has also provided an 18th  September date with a view to re-opening, subject to last minute details.

After covering some brief alterations to prior minutes, and accepting minutes from other sub-committees, the meeting continued on. A petition regarding a councilor had been received, with the Mayor putting forward that the specific councilor’s behaviour and language had been unpleasant, abhorrent and rude. Noting that an elected representative cannot be fired or dismissed, a vote of no confidence in the councilor (noted as toothless by the Mayor himself) was suggested. The councilor in question, who was present, declined to respond beyond a short statement. There were a number of discussions regarding conduct past, present and future, including a possible future code of conduct. The Mayor called a vote of no confidence in the councilor of question, which was passed.

Not connected to the above, a seperate councilor has resigned leaving an empty space at council. If ten members of the public request an election for the open space by the 18th Aug, an election would be held (although not until May due to the COVID restrictions). If the public do not call for an election, the council can co-opt a member of the public to fill the position more quickly. The adverts for this space have been sent out, with some extra information here.

There were a number of vacancies on the sub-committees, with councilors putting themselves forward for the vacancies best suited to their skills and backgrounds.

Following this, the recommendations from the Finance and Properties committee on the 20th July were received.

The internal audit was accepted, the accounts were accepted for the Mayor and Clerk to sign, and finally the investment policy was sent back for more work after a councilor suggested that the objectives contradicted themselves. Having split it off, the financial risk assessment was also adopted.

The council now reached the Tree Planting groups’ request for funds, which was supported in principal, however further details were requested in order to make a full decision at a later date. Several councilors volunteered to help and to include the work within the climate plan.

The town council website was discussed next, with a view to meeting upcoming accessibility baselines coming in in September. Initial research has suggested that a new website is required, the cost estimated at £1500-1900. It was suggested to use a local company, or offer work experience via the school, while there was a note made that there are 6 weeks to provide a compliant website. Moving ahead with the website was voted on and passed.

An update to providing a brochure to promote local tourism and filming locations was provided, although the initial report suggested splitting these in to two separate brochures. Drafts were submitted to councilors in advance, with one noticing that Dorchester Abbey featured – which was noted for alteration. It was noted that the brochures refer readers to the website, which however is currently lacking. Therefore a decision on this was postponed until the website is completed.

The towns’ COVID recovery plans were brought up next, with the councilors involved not putting anything new forward as the town had opened up ahead of their work completing. The suggestion was now for planning in case of a second spike, which would allow decisions and actions to be taken with greater speed in the future. There was comment made of some traffic calming posters being worked on, which are awaiting deployment. There was wide spread agreement on being able to move quickly in the future.

Allotments came next, with 21 people in the town currently on waiting list. However, a wrinkle has arisen under a S106 requirement (originally agreed to by SODC) in that if the new allotments at site B are not transferred to the council before the 100th occupier on the new site, then the allotment would have to be prioritised for the residents of the new site. This would leave the council in an odd situation in potentially managing a public space only available for some residents.
There were a number of discussions regarding this, including potential future risks legal, financial and practical. A vote was called on the transfer of the allotments from Site B, if title can be transferred before the end of 2020. This vote was carried.

The council then discussed the widening of the footpath between the two above allotment sites (the existing and the new). It was noted as a missed opportunity to make it a cycle path, although the new plans would add a 6ft fence to be added to the allotment boundary. The motion was carried on the basis of the prior motion being agreed to by the developer. 

Coming up on two hours in to the meeting, the Mayor provided an update to the neighborhood and local plans. The highlights of the update are as follows:

The consultation closes on the 11th Aug for the neighborhood plan, with the council having been given the opportunity to add an appendix to the initial submission, highlighting the lack of infrastructure in the town to support new developments.

The county council has confirmed that they are not looking to put a new school on site E. 

The SODC local plan update mentioned that the housing target has been changed to a minimum, not a designated target. Therefore there is a potential for additional new houses on sites B and E. The housing inspector is due to visit and inspect the town, in order to better understand the situation.

Heading towards the end of the meeting, the gym and OXFAM’s access across the car park was discussed, starting with a coverage of liability insurance. It was noted that the gym is happy to alter times etc to suit, also that OXFAM had been using the car park for access for a number of years anyway. The discussion then turned to requesting that OXFAM should have to submit a risk assessment for the use of the car park, which is council land, as it would be unfair and not right to request it of the gym only.

It was eventually suggested that use of the space for both the gym and OXFAM (subject to them providing insurance and a risk assessment) be allowed until the 30th Sept. However also that the OXFAM arrangement be revisited and defined for the longer term in the near future.

The work on the Regal has been suspended, with the Mayor looking to issue a survey in Window on Wallingford in order to develop evidence for a business plan for the Regal. This would help form plans going forward, and the public asked to contribute where possible.

The Town Council offices are intended to move into the Regal once development is complete, with the council having now been issued planning permission to turn the current offices in to flats. This permission lasts three years, and so nothing needed to be done at this time.

The Historic Assets working party reported that they have completed an application to Historic England, with another to be submitted in the next week. Both of these are for funds to repair historic structures under the council’s purview.

Planned work to the Town Hall is currently costed at £1.5m, with a suspicion of costs rising to £2m – to install accessible toilets, an external lift etc. This would look to be funded via the National Lottery and the work would expect to take 12-15 months, during which the building would be covered in scaffold and unavailable for use. There were a number of statements against any modern additions, specifically to the exterior of the building.

The council finally suggested making a nomination to the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service with Bunkfest, 1155 and the Wallingford Accessible Boat Club being touted for support. Prior winners include the Sinodun Players and Corn Exchange Wallingford.

The council then moved on to the private part of the meeting, at 2154, for which we were obviously not present!

— 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 motion regarding the councilor’s petition specifically, we have attempted to represent these as independent and neutrally as possible while attempting to communicate the nature of the meeting.