On a warm and clear day in April, 23 people gathered not one of Wallingford’s many pub gardens, but online at a Full Council meeting on Microsoft Teams. Just following 7pm, Cllr Rob McGregor brought the meeting to order.

First business of the evening proper was public participation – former Cllr Colin Dolton spoke regarding the current planning for Bunkfest.

Spoken word version of this article

by Wallingford and District Talking Newspaper

While reiterating plans for a normal Bunkfest if possible, and stressing that charging for entry is not on the cards (despite some public rumours), Colin laid out that some restrictions may be imposed by the overseeing authorities. These may include restricting numbers, vaccine passports or more.

If reducing numbers does become a licence requirement, it would necessitate fencing the Kinecroft in order to comply, and thus for the event to go ahead. This would include footpath closures, an increase in security coverage, and more.

It is possible that overly prescriptive restrictions would result in Bunkfest being postponed again, however the organising directors are investigating every method of the event going ahead available, in case these restrictions are imposed.

Colin stressed that all options are being looked at, in order to allow the event to go ahead in a safe manner.

Mayor-elect Marcus Harris asked what would happen if the footpath closures are not authorised, to which the reply came that the event would likely not go ahead. Colin expanded that it is very likely under current understanding that there would be a numbers cap on Bunkfest 2021. Cllr Nigel Hughes asked about the possible closure of the fringe, with the reply that an Arts Council Grant has been applied for in order to pay the fringe artists, although this has not yet been awarded.

Cllr Sinkinson asked if the numbers cap lead to a rolling 1 in – 1 out system, to which it was suggested would be the case. Cllr Kidley raised concerns that the public may raise in regards to the Kinecroft being closed off. This matter being for discussion later in the meeting, Colin was thanked for his input.

The next member of the public was Amy Smith, who spoke with regards to the town’s links with Agatha Christie, and wanted to suggest that the Winterbook House be acquired as a asset of community interest. This would make it available as an experience centre – bar / cafe / shop etc – and act as a tourist attraction in the area.

This is to be discussed in council later and will be revisited.

Chairmans Communications started with thanks being given to Barbara, the Council Senior Admin, who is at her last council meeting after 18 years of service. Barbara received a bouquet of flowers from the council and her colleagues.

Sitting County Councillor Pete Sudbury spoke next. Pete is a candidate for the Oxfordshire County Council seat, and spoke as part of his current work. The other candidates for the election of OCC ward of Wallingford, Brightwell and Wittenhams are Lee Upcraft and Jason Ryall. Pete thanked the council in event of this being his final town council meeting.

Steve Holder was welcomed – his first council meeting after his uncontested nomination to the Council. Former Cllr Dalton was also thanked for his years of work on behalf of the town – no flowers, but a drink was promised at a later date.

Following the adoption of minutes and other technical matters, we move on to the first section proper.

An update on the council finances was next, with updated reserves figures being presented to the councillors. This is part of a move to keep the councillors more in tune with the state of finances.

After confirming that the vacant seat of Colin will be filled by co-option, the meeting moved on to the timetable of meetings. Two new meetings are being added to 2021, ensuring a council meeting every month. The meeting, moving at pace, moved on to the possible return to face to face meetings.

Cllr Rob asked if the council would like to take part in the review being undertaken in to this, with Cllr Keats-Rohan asking if Cllrs can reply individually. This being understood to be the case, Cllrs were invited to reply on their own time.

The council further debated the merits of continuing meetings online for the time being, with the overriding suggestion being to continue online until such time as a full and free meeting can be held in public. The Town Clerk highlighted possible ongoing legal proceedings and advice which may impact decisions. Cllr Beatty suggested that with offices and shops being open, that meetings could return to normality immediately. Cllr Catermole agreed with Cllr Beatty, while suggesting a venue with more space may be of benefit. Cllr Rob suggested that the limits on access to the town hall would restrict members of the public, were that to be the route. A general suggestion of sub-committees being in public and full council online was suggested. It was further noted that the online meeting format had boosted engagement. Cllr Harris suggested that the potential costs of hosting one or two meetings in person, as well as the risk to public health, may lead towards a delay before the return to much-wanted in person meetings. Cllr Hughes agreed with Marcus.

Cllr Rob proposed a motion to continue online until June 21st, (end of restrictions) before returning to face to face meetings. The motion was passed.

Following this debate, the council moved on to Cllr Keates-Rohan and an update on the Castle Gardens. A grant is being pursued for preservation works, which would begin with an investigation stage do be completed this year.

However, the grant would cover 80% of costs, with the council having to raise 20% – with roughly £9700 due this year. Grant offers may come with conditions, which may include a regular maintenance schedule. Cllr Keates-Rohan suggested that a public engagement plan would be of general benefit, and may help with fundraising efforts.

Cllr Keates-Rohan then spoke regarding the damaging of the scheduled monuments being a crime. This would include irresponsible behaviour by the public in allowing children to play and dig on the Kinecroft, which can lead to permanent damage. The suggestion of Councillor patrols to deter anti-social behaviour was discussed, framed in respect of a short-term measure to protect the monuments. Cllr Catermole stated that councillors are not PCSOs, Cllr Holder asked if the PCSOs were actually available to patrol in the area. He further suggested an education campaign via the schools may be of benefit.

The town clerk reported that the PCSOs have been contacted and that they will perform some patrols. Cllr Harris touted the possible legal ramifications of suggesting councillor patrols, were a councillor to be injured. He further suggested installation of cameras as a possible fact finding option. Tracey from the town council gave an update, with two incidents having been reported to her yesterday, both of which she asked to be reported on to the police – they being the correct body to respond to antisocial behaviour. Cllr Dan proposed there are two groups of people – the general public who may be unaware of the impact of their actions, as well as a group intending to damage monuments. He further backed a CCTV system as a solution. A resolution to not support councillor patrols, but to investigate CCTV as an option, was supported and passed.

The Bunkfest was back next, with the proposal to back fencing the Kinecroft if required for the event to go ahead. This would be the start of a long process, with the town council’s support being the first step required.

Cllr Harris spoke first, in support of the event as being synonymous with the town, while pointing out that without the support of council on this matter that the event would not go ahead. Cllr Lester stated a high level of trust in the Bunkfest directors, suggesting to allow them to investigate the options available to them.

Cllr Beatty suggested there was little to discuss, and with that the motion moved to vote. This was passed unanimously.

Leaping ahead to flag flying on public meetings, Cllr Beatty stated legislation requiring public buildings to fly the Union Flag throughout the year is being passed by central government, expressing hope that this would begin soon. It was discussed that the town flag had previously been the ‘daily’ flag – although this would be superseded by the incoming legislation. It was noted that on special days – armed forces day for instance – that other flags will continue to be flown. The town Clerk suggested that it would be unlikely that the Town Hall would be classed as a government building. The town clerk was directed to investigate the status of the town hall, so that the legislation could be complied with, if required.

The lease of the Cholsey and Wallingford Railway was back to council next, with the C&WR having rejected the prior suggestion of a return of the land in event of a passenger service being approved.

It was clarified that the council own the trackbed, while the C&WR own the station buildings and platform. This would mean a return of the land, without the buildings, would be useless for all concerned. A proposal from the railway for a memorandum of understanding to jointly moving towards hosting a commuter line in the event of that being possible was received. Cllr Beatty suggested that the memorandum sounded sensible.

The Councillors quickly discussed the suggested update to the railway lease, with the council voting to agree to the memorandum of understanding.

A request from the Museum to use the Red phone box outside the museum as a pop-up location was passed straight to vote, with the motion being agreed to. Re the Red box on St Johns Road, it was suggested that offering it to the school to adopt may be suitable.

Moving in to the last stretch of the meeting, an update on the Regal Centre was heard, with Marcus updating the work undertaken to date. A lot of this appeared to be being held back for the confidential part of the meeting, with no specifics being brought forward in public.

Finally, Cllr Catermole spoke on the proposal to move Winterbrook House in to a Asset of Community Value. This would involve setting up a charitable trust to purchase the house, with the view of converting it to a tourist attraction as well as a centre of local and national literary history. The town council would have to submit a request to have it listed, which would trigger SODC to look in to that.

The Town Clerk stated that as a residential property, it may be exempt from being classed as an asset of community value. She stressed there was a lot of information available on the SODC website, with a number of tests needing to be met. The suggestion was widely met with approval, although it was noted the process does seem lengthy and possibly subject to court proceedings. It was suggested that the building would fit within the ‘Cultural’ section of the request procedure.

As the suggestion would require no funds from the council, it was suggested that an attempt would be worth while, given that success would hugely benefit the town as a whole. The motion to try to start the process was put to the vote, which was passed by majority.

At 20:59 the council meeting moved in to confidential, and with the public being excluded our coverage concludes.

This article is a representation of the meeting, based on our attendance. It is not intended to be a sunstitute for formal minutes, which will be presented in the near future by the council officers.

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