Olney Town Council Reports

Phonebox Magazine send a reporter to the Olney Town Council Meetings on the first Monday to each month. We have the minutes of the 2016 meetings here. Earlier ones are available on Phonebox’s website.

Olney Town Council reports for 2016

  • January 2016
    Public participation

    Francis Smith spoke on the subject of providing a Skate/BMX Park in Olney. This issue was discussed later in the meeting and is covered below.

    Oakdown Crescent

    Councillors had met with the Milton Keynes Council’s (MKC) Corporate Director for Place to discuss the lack of progress on the issue of parking in Oakdown Crescent. He’d promised an update on the situation but, the meeting having taken place only recently, this has not yet been forthcoming.

    Skate/BMX Park

    Colin Rodden, who along with Carl Clennett had been assisting Francis and friends with the proposal, introduced this topic. Four possible sites for the Park had been investigated – Barn Field, Johnson’s Field, the Recreation Ground and the Youth Club – and graded in terms of distance from where people live, distance from existing sports facilities, and ease and suitability for installation. Based on these criteria, the Recreation Ground had come out on top with around 50% more points than Johnson’s Field, its nearest competitor. Thus, the Recreation Ground is the only location being pursued for this proposal, the currently chosen position there being immediately South of the All Weather Surface – covering around half the often muddy area where BOTO places its marquee and Fireworks Night its fair and stalls.
    Resurfacing the existing All Weather Surface may also be included alongside the proposal. The cost of a new tarmac surface had been estimated at £18,000, allowing the usual mix of sports, for example football and basketball, to still be played there. Alternatively, Olney Football Club had expressed an interest in laying an artificial grass surface and feels it could likely raise the significant funding required to do so. However, if that option was chosen, use of the area would be for football only and it would likely be kept locked when not in use in order to protect the surface.
    The Sports Clubs have been asked for their views and, based on the subset of responses received so far, the results are positive with some questions about noise levels. Also, the topic has been posted on the Olney Noticeboard Facebook page and received positive responses. Not all parties contacted have yet responded, and further views will be sought.
    Peter Geary was very positive about the proposal, his only concern being that Council Planning guidelines for the minimum allowed distance from the nearest residential property be followed. Tony Evans felt that any All Weather Surface resurfacing work should be separated from the Skate Park and, that being said, noted he’d prefer to continue with a tarmac surface as that was the most likely to keep the area well used. Steve Clark was also keen to split the projects, noting that he didn’t want to see both put at risk due to the larger amount of money that would have to be raised to complete them as a pair. Ron Bull noted that the Skate Park proposal would stand and fall by how much money the proposers could raise themselves – for example, from local businesses and individuals – which would need to be significant else the project would be a non starter. In summary, Councillors were broadly in favour of the proposal.

    Market Place CCTV

    After a delay caused primarily by personnel changes at Thames Valley Police, Olney Town Council (OTC) approved the purchase of the CCTV camera system for £5,500, with an annual running cost of £590, subject to confirmation that the system has the best available specification for the price.

    Tourism signage

    Summarising what was quite a long discussion, Councillors voted by majority to support having two signs, likely coloured brown as per regular Tourist Information signs, one at each entrance to Olney on the A509, carrying the wording ‘Welcome to Olney Home of Amazing Grace’. The notable abstention was from Peter Geary, who, while agreeing with the need for the signs and their wording, felt strongly that brown was an inappropriate colour.

    Plan:MK

    Plan:MK, one of whose options involves very significant housing development in Olney, is due to be consulted on shortly. As the plan has been reported extensively in the local press, it’s not covered in detail here. OTC, along with various other Parish Councils and individuals, had called in the decision to consult on the development options document. The reasons for this were that:

    • The consultation document was flawed because there was no check on the feasibility of the development options before it was proposed to go out for public consultation, a feasibility check being an essential part of the consultation process;

    • The process to produce the document was flawed in various ways, including that the workshops were poorly run and that the views of developers attending were over represented;
    Plan:MK (continued)

    • While the Local Plan, Plan:MK, follows a process for estimating housing demand over the next 10-15 years which is both rigorous and evidence based, the MK Futures 2050 Commission’s forecasts are neither, yet will, over time, override those in Plan:MK. Combining Plan:MK with the MK Futures 2050 Commission is a flawed use of the Local Plan process.

    The call-in was debated by the Executive Scrutiny Committee on 2nd December which, voting along party lines, decided to proceed with the consultation but with some changes. Principally, they will remove all references to specific rural areas and instead have a general option along the lines of ‘development in the rural area’. They also agreed that certain aspects of the initial consultation were flawed, specifically the communication of the process and the lack of representation at the vision workshops. Finally, they agreed there would be more engagement with rural Parishes and neighbouring Planning Authorities (e.g. Central Bedfordshire Council). But, the consultation will proceed.
    OTC and other nearby Parish Councils are considering clubbing together to take legal action as a group against MKC. Colin Rodden felt it was a sad day to see two public bodies suing each other, but that it was justified since MKC had not properly consulted with the Parish Councils. Chris Shaw asked what OTC’s mandate was to reject the plan – for example, should the Council poll local residents for their opinions? The resulting view, with which there was broad agreement, was that the option to add 10,000 houses to each of Olney, Sherington and Castlethorpe by 2050 was too obviously ludicrous to justify the expense of a public consultation.
    Overall, Councillors’ views were broadly summed up by Peter Geary, who noted that the Parish Councils had to let MKC know they were watching it on this issue, and that it should not be over-influenced by the developers. He felt this issue would take a lot of people’s time over the next few years.
    The Council voted unanimously to authorise £3K expenditure for legal services against MKC, and to hold funds and provide administrative support for these services on behalf of Olney and other smaller nearby Parish Councils, for example Castlethorpe and Sherington.


    Water bill

    The Council has received a water bill for £5,500, substantially more than the usual £500 per year. This appears to be caused by a substantial leak which occurred during the Summer in the pipe supplying the Tennis Club where it passes under one of the tennis courts. The leak has been addressed by running an alternative pipe from the tractor shed around the tennis courts to the Club house and, unlike the previous supply,
    this one is metered albeit at the Club house end. Councillors will meet with the Tennis Club to decide how to meet the cost of the additional bill.


    (Not) giving blood

    The regular sessions run by the National Blood Service at the Youth Club for people to give blood have been stopped, apparently due to the team which organised them losing a member. Councillors decided to write to the Service asking it to reconsider, and to ask if Mark Lancaster, our local MP, would table a written question on the topic in Parliament.


    Events in 2016

    The Pancake race will take place on Tuesday 9th February, the Barn Field beacon will be lit for the Queen’s 90th birthday on Thursday 21st April, John Scarrott’s Fair will be in Olney from Wednesday 15th to Saturday 18th June, TOG has asked to hold Raft Race on Sunday 3rd July, BOTO will be held from Friday 8th to Sunday 10th July, and there’ll be a Retro Car Tour visiting the town on Wednesday 7th September. That lot should keep you busy.


    Bits ‘n’ bobs

    Dickens of a Christmas was thought to have been a very successful event. The Council may publish an article explaining who runs which parts of this pretty substantial undertaking and how it’s paid for.
    Ron Bull noted that, while the letter from Richard Pill in last month’s Phonebox Magazine implied that the Sainsbury’s planning application had been delayed indefinitely, this was not in fact the case and it was simply waiting on additional information being provided. He asked if OTC could refute the view, as some people had taken it seriously.
    The next meeting will be held at 7.30pm on Monday 4th January in the Council Chamber in the Olney Centre. Members of the public are always welcome to attend and, if they wish, speak at the start of the meeting, or at any point that the Mayor decides is appropriate.
  • February 2016
    There was a full house of members of the public at this month’s meeting, eager to have their say on the proposals by Milton Keynes Council (MKC) to close the Kitchener Day Centre for older people as part of its financial challenge.


    Public participation

    Four people spoke about the closure of the Kitchener Centre:
    Kathleen Wilson said that Olney Town Council (OTC) had been involved in the building of the centre with money donated by Harry Kitchener. She said it enables service users to maintain their independence and that her husband attends two days a week. The proposal to relocate the service to a single centre in Milton Keynes was ill thought out and the centre is as essential a service to the town as the schools, baby clinics and doctor surgeries. We might all need it one day, she said.
    Keith Gould is a volunteer mini bus driver for the centre and said on a good day it takes him over two hours to collect and deliver clients to the centre. Sometimes it can take longer if carers have not got them ready. If the collection for the new centre started at the same time as now then the clients would spend so long getting to and from Milton Keynes that they would not have time for any activities once they got there. In an emotional plea he explained that his wife uses the centre, which provides respite for himself and he did not think he would be able to cope without it.
    Kevin Viney said that the centre had proved to be a vital and local link for a very vulnerable group of people who often have no voice. They and their families value both the core and extra voluntary services such as outings and Christmas treats. To bus them through the rush hour into Milton Keynes would be both cruel and wrong, he said, particularly given that the centre had shown flexibility to live within its means following successive tight budgets.
    Tom Horne said his mother has been using the centre for the last four years and gives him and other carers the opportunity to get work done during this time. He would not like to see his mother spending two to three hours each way travelling on a bus as this would cause her even more confusion and probably shorten her life.
    The issue of the Kitchener Centre was discussed as an agenda item later in the meeting.

    Oakdown Crescent

    There has been no update from MKC on the matter of parking or poor state of the pavements. Sue Warren observing from the public area made it clear that she was very angry at the lack of progress and asked where the money had gone that MKC had allocated to a solution. The pavements are in a very dangerous state for the elderly residents, she said. Joe Stacey declared the situation to be ‘ludicrous’ and thought it was now time to start ‘throwing bricks’ (figuratively, no doubt) in order to get things moving. Ward Councillor Peter Geary said that the MKC Chief Executive was aware of the situation and that there were reasons why it had not been progressed, which he was not prepared to discuss in the meeting, although constant staff changes was a contributory factor. He admitted that mistakes had been made which had slowed the process down but throwing bricks would not help. It was now time for OTC to work with MKC to ensure that the same mistakes were not made again.

    Youth Centre Community Asset Transfer

    OTC has applied to take ownership of the Youth Centre under the C.A.T. programme. The stage 1 process has completed and confirmation that OTC has met the eligibility criteria received. It will now move to Stage 2 and can hopefully be fast-tracked.

    MKC Budget Consultation

    As has been widely reported MKC need to make budget cuts of £21.7m in 2016/17 due to a combination of increasing demand for services and reduction in funding from Central Government. Council Tax will increase by the maximum permitted figure of 3.95%, meaning that the average band D property will pay £1206.06. A document listing 130 proposals, together with the likely impact and cost saving has been produced and comments are being invited from councils and members of the public. This document can be downloaded from the OTC website www.olneytowncouncil.gov.uk by clicking on the link in the rolling Latest News menu. Peter Geary gave a brief outline of some of the proposals, including: Removing the warden from sheltered housing at Clifton Court; Closing the Kitchener Centre; Reduction of Bus subsidies, resulting in even fewer busses; Closure of some children’s play area; Replacing pink recycling sacks with reusable hessian sacks. It was agreed that councillors needed more time to look at the various proposals in detail before compiling a formal response.


    Plan:MK

    OTC are acting as the principle body in formulating a response to the proposals to build an additional 10,000 homes each in Olney, Sherington and Castlethorpe and Jeremy Rawlings reported that the group have appointed Shoosmiths as solicitors to represent them. The consultation will start on 13th January.


    Development adjacent
    to sewage works


    Last year MKC granted planning permission for a developer to build 30 new homes on land adjacent to the sewage works that previously only had permission for business (employment use). OTC objected on a number of grounds and Anglian Water commented that any development close to the pumping station would be subject to some noise and odour, suggesting a condition that development does not take place within 15 metres. However, this comment was not included in the MKC document recommending that permission be granted. OTC raised a complaint that the decision was based on flawed and incomplete information and should be overturned. A letter has been received from the MKC Head of Spatial Planning and Implementation partially upholding the complaint and apologising for the omission, but not agreeing to review the decision since he did not believe that a different conclusion would have been reached, even if the comment had been included. Members decided it would not be a good use of their funds to take this to the next level so reluctantly agreed to accept the partial victory.


    Kitchener Centre

    There are currently three centres in Milton Keynes providing day services for older people, all of which are working below capacity. Redwood in Bletchley is in a poor state of repair, Manor Road in Netherfield is reportedly ‘falling down’, while the Olney Kitchener Centre is around 10 years old and well maintained. The original proposal was to close all centres and relocate the service in a new centre to be built in Simpson. This was expected to achieve a saving of £200k but unsurprisingly caused a public outcry. MKC then put forward a second option of creating two geographical hubs by closing Redwood and Manor Road and relocating to the new Simpson Centre (the Southern hub) and retaining the Kitchener Centre and extending its catchment area (the Northern hub). This second option would also achieve a saving of £200k. A number of members of OTC had attended the MKC meeting where this proposal had been put forward and Ron Bull said he got the feeling that the MKC officers present knew they had made a mistake. Chris Shaw observed that it was a bad day if Olney could not look after its elderly residents. Peter Geary advised caution saying that although the second option had been put forward and was cost neutral, the budget consultation was still going ahead so it was not a done deal. Sally Pezaro asked if there were any plans to increase the capacity of the Kitchener Centre. Mayor Steve Clark explained that in February 2013 the centre was working at its full capacity of 15 people and had a waiting list. Dr Brian Partridge from Cobbs Garden Surgery had expressed concern at this situation and had suggested that consideration should be given to an extension of the building. Since then, Steve explained, there had been a ‘raising of the bar’ to qualify for its services and it was now operating below capacity.



    Town Meeting

    This year’s Town Meeting will take place on 12th May, after the OTC elections. It was agreed that this should be widely advertised in an attempt to persuade residents to attend and have their say.



    The next meeting will be held at 7.30pm on Monday 1st February in the Council Chamber in the Olney Centre. Members of the public are always welcome to attend and, if they wish, speak at the start of the meeting, or at any point that the Mayor decides is appropriate.
  • March 2016
    Public participation

    Sue Warren spoke again on the subject of parking in Oakdown Crescent. She’d been speaking with Milton Keynes Council (MKC) about the possibility of introducing a permit parking scheme there. In order to be considered by MKC this would, amongst other criteria, require the support of over 70% of the properties in the Crescent. Sue felt this level of support would be achievable and said she would canvas opinions.
    Susan Hughes spoke to report that, after nine years, the Olney Neighbourhood Action Group had ceased in its current form due to the withdrawal of support from MKC and, because of restructuring, Thames Valley Police. She explained that she was sad to see it go, but felt it had helped the town a great deal. She also thanked John Boardman for chairing its meetings, Liam Costello and Sandra Grummit (the Town and Deputy Town Clerks), and said she could not have wished for a better representative from Olney Town Council (OTC) than Rosemary Osborne. Steve Clark, on behalf of the Council, thanked Sue for the Group’s work.

    Oakdown Crescent

    Liam reported that he’d attended a site meeting in the Crescent, along with a new person at MKC who’d be in the job for only the next six months. While that doesn’t sound like a great start – the Mercury report from July 2015 noting stalled progress due to the person looking at the issue being reassigned without MKC telling OTC who, if anyone, was continuing with it – it is a step in the right direction and at least the length of his ‘stay’ is known. Peter Geary explained that a plan had been proposed: To make interim repairs addressing the worst of the uneven surface, to produce an options paper on which OTC would consult with residents, then to show the results to MKC who would decide what action to take.

    Circular Walk

    As reported before, a Circular Walk is being planned, and MKC has proposed that the section which runs parallel to and south of Weston Road alongside one of the streams be diverted to instead run in the same direction along the northern bank of the River Great Ouse. Tony Evans preferred this route as, with it being fenced, there was a degree of separation between walkers (and their dogs) and the nearby sheep. Peter Geary felt OTC should ask for it to be a permissive right of way, this being different from a public right of way in that, although anyone could use it, the Council could ban particular people from doing so if the need arose. As noted by Jeremy Rawlings, permissive rights of way are not shown on Ordnance Survey maps although, as Liam explained, good signage could partially negate this concern.

    Citizens Advice Bureau

    For the past few years, the Council has made a yearly payment to Citizens Advice Milton Keynes in order to provide an outreach service in Olney, amounting to four 45 minute appointments every fortnight. Citizens Advice has proposed leaving the amount unchanged this year, at £5,198. Councillors discussed this, the key points being that the sessions were, on the whole, fully booked but that less statistical information, for example the number of people helped, was available than in previous years. Councillors voted all in favour, bar two abstentions including one due to this lack of information, of making the payment to retain the service for
    another year.

    Budget 2016-2017

    Based on a recommendation from the Finance Committee, Councillors voted unanimously to accept the proposed budget. Looking at the income side, the Council Tax Base – the equivalent number of Band D properties in the Parish paying Council Tax – has increased by 0.8%. But, the Council Tax Base Reduction Grant for Olney – a government grant given to Parish Councils to compensate them for the reduction in Council Tax Base due to various welfare changes – has been reducing every year and will eventually disappear. Looking at those issues, plus the predicted spend, OTC has increased its precept to £177,000, a 4.1% increase, resulting in it taking £68.54 per year from the illustrative Band D Council Tax, a 3.28% increase.

    Lavendon Road Section 106 requirements consultation

    Having previously declared an interest, Peter Geary and Ben Brock left the meeting for the duration of this item.
    This refers to a Planning Application to build 50 houses on the triangular parcel of land South of Lavendon Road and immediately South East of the Whirly Pit roundabout, stretching around half way to the river. Section 106 refers to a legal agreement between a Local Authority and a Developer, linked to planning permission and also known as a planning obligation. A new development can place extra pressure on local infrastructure, for example healthcare, and the agreement aims to balance that pressure with improvements to the surrounding area such that, where possible, the development will make a positive contribution to the local area and community.
    Liam started the discussion, noting that this was prior to planning permission being decided and that the estimated amount payable under Section 106 would be £985,220, equating to £19,704 per house. MKC had calculated this estimate in accordance with its Supplementary Planning Guidance, and were asking for comments on it, along with whether any additional projects or requirements were needed in order to make the development agreeable in planning terms.

    Lavendon Road Section 106 requirements consultation (continued)…..

    While this sounded a large figure, Deidre Bethune and Joe Stacey each noted that the money would go to MKC and that Olney wouldn’t get to see a lot of it, perhaps 25%, OTC effectively having to bid for local projects. A lengthy discussion followed, much of which centred on what OTC could, in principle and reality – which, the feeling appeared to be, may differ significantly – actually affect. Councillors agreed to respond noting the amount, showing a few illustrations of local projects and offering further information in due course.
    While not discussed during this meeting, on the same night, the Sainsbury’s Planning Application was rejected by MKC. This was for a number of reasons, but it’s worth noting that they included the supermarket site being outside the existing settlement boundary and in open countryside. This 50 house Application is outside but almost adjacent to that boundary and just over the road from the proposed Sainsbury’s site. If this Application is agreed, would the ‘open countryside’ reason for rejecting the Sainsbury’s one carry less weight?

    Plan:MK

    As reported before, Olney and other Parish Councils had won various concessions from MKC in terms of the content of the Plan, for example that the map showing satellite settlement ‘bubbles’ surrounding Olney and certain other nearby villages would be removed. MKC had released draft one of the document without making this change, then draft two with the ‘bubbles’ removed but the associated text continuing to state the names of these towns and villages, then finally draft three with those also removed. It was believed that one Council had already provided its response to the plan based on draft one. Olney and associated Parish Councils are arguing via Solicitors that the process has therefore been tainted, is flawed and should be withdrawn. A Solicitor’s letter has been written and, come the Public Examination some time 2016 – 2018, this will be mentioned.
    Peter Geary and other Councillors felt that option three, ‘one or more satellite settlements in the rural area’, would be a disaster wherever they were located, as it would separate people from their work and cause more travel, for example in and out of Milton Keynes via the already congested M1 crossings. He also noted that option four, ‘intensification and redevelopment of the urban area’, which had seemed attractive, meant building on various parcels of employment land within Milton Keynes, and that alternative land for employment must then be provided elsewhere, for example to the East of the M1.
    Councillors are keen to get the Plan:MK information out to the Public, and you’re much encouraged to read and respond to it. Please surf to this link www.milton-keynes.gov.uk/PlanMK.

    Purchase of new mower

    Councillors voted unanimously to spend £15,000 to purchase a new Kubota mower. This was interesting mainly because it highlighted a case where the usual recommendation that all purchases must go out to three tenders was, with reason, not followed. In summary, this was because all Kubota agents tend to charge remarkably similar prices, and it’s hard to
    compare one dealer with another like-for-like when you consider location, standard of service, trust, etc.

    Town Meeting

    This year’s Town Meeting will be held on 12th May in the Olney Centre. Noting with irony that last year’s meeting was ‘our usual show of dynamic excitement’, Steve Clark asked for ideas to make it more interesting and worthwhile for people to attend. Councillors agreed with this sentiment and, in practice, these meetings tend to attract a tiny attendance unless a particular controversy is in progress at the time. For example, a few years back, issues surrounding Doff’s Field led to a good attendance. In order to attract more people, Councillors decided to provide drinks, including wine, to advertise the meeting more widely and to look into the possibility of providing some entertainment.

    Bits ‘n’ bobs

    A permanent CCTV camera has been installed covering the Market Place. The Recreation Ground play area improvements should be well underway or complete by the time this is published. The Council is getting a full condition report for the Youth Centre, as part of the process to decide whether it wishes to apply for the Centre under the Community Asset Transfer scheme. MKC is starting formal action against the owner of Westlands due to their use of the building outside planning consent, and the owner has submitted plans to convert it into flats.


    The next meeting will be held at 7.30pm on Monday 7th March in the Council Chamber in the Olney Centre. Members of the public are always welcome to attend and, if they wish, speak at the start of the meeting, or at any point that the mayor decides is appropriate.
  • April 2016

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