Chairman's Annual Report
At this time of the year I would normally be writing a report for the Annual Parish Assembly.
I would be reporting on the activities of the various Council Committees, the allotments and cemetery, grounds and recreation, planning and environment, Village hall and Finance, and I wouId be thanking your Parish Councillors and your County and District Councillors for their efforts on your behalf.
That report together with the minutes of the last Annual Parish Assembly would have been presented at a physical meeting when you would have had an opportunity of asking questions and of putting motions. This year however as a result of coronavirus the format has changed and instead of at a physical meeting, my year-end report and the Annual year end accounts are being presented to you through the Hellingly Highlights and the Council’s website. Should any parishioner however wish to obtain a hard copy of either my report or the accounts these can be mailed to you if you send a request together with your details to the Clerk.
I am disappointed not to be delivering this report at a physical meeting, as if I had been, in all probability that meeting would have taken place in the new Community Hub, The Drive, Roebuck Park. Most of you will be aware of the fact that as result of the new developments taking place in the Parish developers have been required to provide additional facilities for all parishioners, both new and existing. Rather than accepting several small facilities dispersed around the Parish, Councillors elected to ask the developers to put up a sum of money towards the cost of a new Parish building, a single new community hub in an accessible position well related to existing residents and the majority of the new developments. It was as a result of this that the site, and much of the funding needed for the Community hub, became available and that after many years, work on the new building was finally started last year. With a sixty week build programme were it not for the coronavirus interruption I would now be welcoming you all to the new building. As it is the final touches will not now be completed until towards the middle/ end of July and even then, until the present restrictions are lifted, it will not be possible to make full use of what I believe to be a truly exceptional facility for the Parish. I look forward to the day that I can open the doors to all parishioners to come and see what has been delivered and to make use of the facility. In the meantime my thanks on your behalf go to the Councillors (Councillors C Jackets, B and G Hesselgrave and P Milne) and to our Clerks who have worked with me as a project team to oversee the delivery. My thanks also go to TDS Southern as project managers and to the main contractors H D Builders of Hailsham. The delivery of the new hub means that for the first time our Clerks will have an office in the Parish from which to work and to meet with Parishioners.
In addition to the hub the other major development in the Parish this year has been the completion of the Hellingly Neighbourhood Plan. After four years of research, consultation and painstaking preparation, and with the need to remain at all times in conformity with both government policy and Wealden’s own Local Plan both of which frequently changed, the project team (David Phillips, John Blake, Diane Aldridge, Suzanne Collins) and the Steering Group finally delivered to Wealden a submission copy of the HNDP last September for checking before being sent to an Independent Inspector for Examination. The examination took place in public on 18 January following which the examiner issued his report with recommended changes. These were agreed to and on 25 March we received a letter from the inspector formally approving the plan with the comment I must congratulate Hellingly Parish Council for preparing a locally distinct and focussed neighbourhood plan, which seeks to deliver on the expressed priorities of the community. The plan delivers on its two main objectives namely to protect the rural character of the parish and secondly to retain the individual character of the existing settlements within Hellingly Parish, whilst recognising that the parish will continue to grow, as a result of the strategic policies for this area, which lies on the northern edge of the town of Hailsham…
I am therefore delighted to recommend to Wealden District Council that the Hellingly Neighbourhood Plan, as modified by my recommendations, should now proceed to referendum.
At its Meeting of Wealden Council on 20 May the plan was approved for referendum. All that remained for the plan to be fully effective was for it to be approved by a simple majority of parishioners voting in the referendum. Normally a referendum would be held within 60 days of the Examiners report. However coronavirus once again intervened with the Government legislating to postpone all elections and referenda until 7 May 2021. In the meantime, the Parish Council is assured both by the Examiner and by Wealden Council that the HNDP and its policies will have significant weight in determining any planning applications within the Parish. Not quite as good as being fully effective as “significant weight “ can be open to interpretation by those wishing to ignore the provisions of the HNDP. This is important in view of the failure of Wealden Council’s own Plan, which following the finding of the Inspector at the Examination, that took place in the middle of last year, that the plan was unsound, had to be withdrawn in January of this year leaving the District without an up to date local plan to guide development applications. Wealden Council has already begun work on a new District wide plan. But it is likely following the Inspectors findings that the District will need to provide yet more new homes and will now face a tsunami of applications with many of these coming to Hellingly and the area around Hailsham.
The Parish has seen significant growth over the last decade almost trebling in size and will undoubtedly be seen as the receptacle for even more growth in the future. Growth however is not always a threat. With proper planning it can also be an opportunity. An opportunity for new facilities and improved services for all. The new Community Hub, new and improved access to recreation and leisure and the possibility of a sports park.
What remains essential however is that the improvements to the local infrastructure coincide with the delivery of more homes.
We now have the new primary school first promised in 2005 (it only took twelve years and the delivery first of 1000 new homes to achieve). We still need to see the new health centre, the increased secondary school and sixth form college, the better shops and employment opportunities, the improved local road network and the increase in the capacity of the waste water treatment works and water supply again all first promised as long ago as 2005, and for which your Parish Council will continue to press.
I would like to wish you all good luck and great success for the remainder of 2020, hope to see you soon at the new Community Hub, remember it’s more than just a hall! David G White Chairman