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Becoming a Parish Councillor

Q&A’s about how to become a Parish Councillor

Welford-on-Avon Parish Council is now in its 115th year and is the vehicle by which local residents can play a major part in influencing how their village is managed and how it evolves. Parish councillors come and go from time to time and it is essential to ensure that we have people who are willing to replace those who leave if we are to continue to have a big say in the future of Welford. In the absence of a Parish Council the District Council would become responsible for all village matters.

We have prepared the article below to tell you more about what we do and what it means to be a parish councillor. We hope that some of you will be sufficiently interested to come forward when a vacancy occurs; not just for the benefit of the village and your fellow residents, but for your own interest and satisfaction too.

Welford-on- Avon Parish Council

(What we do and how you may become a councillor.)

I’ve heard about the Parish Council but I don’t really know what it does?

It’s good that you’ve heard about us! But we expect, like you, many people in the village don’t have a clear view of what we do. Since we spend £20,000 of your money each year on maintaining and enhancing the village, we thought that you might want to know a bit more about us.

We are the first tier of local government and our main role is to ensure the smooth day-to-day running of the village. As well as the Clerk, who is responsible for both the administration of the Parish Council and its compliance with relevant legislation, there are seven councillors who work together as a team. Matters requiring regular attention are allocated to individual councillors on a portfolio basis and include: – village maintenance, planning, public footpaths, traffic, school liaison, communication (website and Parish News), housing, Parish Council land (Cress Hill and Synder Meadow) and finance. Other matters are addressed by the Parish Council as and when they arise and action agreed according to the circumstances.

We are often the first port of call for residents, and we take responsibility for ensuring that their queries or concerns are addressed, either by providing information and advice, by taking direct action ourselves, or by notifying the relevant authorities.

What do you spend my money on?

Over half our annual budget is spent on maintaining the village. We have over eight miles of public footpaths in the village; they do need regular upkeep though and occasionally we have to re-lay paths like the one from the Bell Inn to Duck Lane. We have also arranged for the old stiles to be replaced by more user-friendly gates. We pay for all the village greens to be regularly cut and maintained, as we do for the sports field at Synder Meadow, where we own the freehold, and St Peter’s churchyard, which is a Parish Council responsibility having a “closed” status.

We arrange for regular inspections of the playground equipment adjacent to the school and ensure that it is safe for children to use. Having secured a grant in 2008 we commissioned a major piece of work at Cress Hill cutting back trees and vegetation, restoring the area and creating viewing points over Welford and beyond. We have also improved the steps leading down from the road. Year six pupils at Welford School have visited the site and it is well worth a walk up there if you have not been recently.

Don’t you have something to do with planning applications?

Although Stratford District Council is the local planning authority it expects us to comment on all applications – from pruning trees in the conservation area to substantial housing developments – so that when it makes its decision the Planning Committee knows what the views of the village are. We try very hard, using our local knowledge, to ensure that our comments are fair and reasonable although there are inevitably occasions when whatever we say will not please everyone.

You have probably noticed that the planning notices are published each month in the Parish News and they also appear on our website.

All this sounds pretty routine. What else do you do?

It might appear routine, but the village is widely admired by residents and visitors alike and we want to ensure that it remains so. This in turn also helps ensure that our local shops, pubs and other services are well supported, and that you do not need to go out of the village for everything. Welford has either won or been runner up in Warwickshire’s “Best Kept Village” competition on no less than twelve occasions and, in partnership with some of Welford’s clubs and societies, we have submitted entries in the new more broadly based competition. We are also keen to ensure that anyone linked with the village is able to live here, regardless of their income. Like many other villages, property in Welford has risen in price over recent years making it difficult for first time buyers and others to stay or move here.

That sounds more interesting. What are you doing about it?

We published our first Parish Plan in June 2007. Over the previous 18 months a steering group made up of local people undertook a major survey of all residents to find out what you thought of the village, and what things you wanted kept, improved or changed. With the help of volunteers we sent copies of the Parish Plan to all households but if you need one just contact our Parish Clerk, Vanessa Lowe – tel; 750414. The report provided a ‘blueprint’ for the Parish Council and Stratford District Council for our future work. As a result of this work, we began by concentrating on two areas: affordable housing and traffic.

We commissioned a housing needs survey which was published in September 2008 and demonstrated a need for 17 affordable homes. Alongside that we also invited landowners to come forward with plots where small scale developments might be undertaken by a Housing Association and a number have done so. Together with Jephson Housing Association we have now held a public meeting and consultation on the first phase of affordable housing provision, whereby the Housing Association is planning to build 7 affordable homes for rent. This exercise is ongoing but we hope that it will lead to the needs of local residents being met. Equally importantly, we hope that this approach will prevent large scale development in and around the village which the vast majority of residents made very clear in the Parish Plan Survey that they did not want to happen.

Speeding traffic is also a problem in the village and the long straight roads encourage people to drive too fast. There have been some nasty accidents near Maypole Stores and The Bell with cars failing to stop. We have amended the traffic speeds throughout the village and 30mph is now the maximum on all streets. In conjunction with the County Council and Police we have arranged schemes for greater speed awareness and enforcement.

What else?

The Parish Plan identified the lack of sports and social activities for young people in the village and we would like to see more done in these areas. Unfortunately a public initiative to assess interest in forming a new youth club was not well attended and this matter is dormant at present. Quite separately Welford Sports Club has taken announced its intention to provide improved sports facilities adjacent to Welford School. We shall monitor developments carefully but cannot comment further at this stage until a formal planning application is made. We hosted the first four showings in the Memorial Hall of the mobile community cinema, “Moving Pictures” in order to get the initiative off to a good start prior to handing it over to a village group to run. These early screenings were extremely popular but unfortunately for the moment have now been discontinued.

As a result of the flooding in 2007 we have revised our community emergency programme, provided better information for all residents affected, and have bought sand and sandbags which residents can use totally free of charge if their house is threatened with water ingress. We also made special contributions to both the Welford Sports Club and The Millennium Trust from the Parish Council funds as they were particularly badly affected by the floods.

What is your involvement with the “Parish News” and the Memorial Hall?

The Parish News is produced by St Peter’s Church in association with All Saints Church in Weston. It is not a Parish Council responsibility but we are pleased to put a regular item in the magazine each month to keep everyone in the village up-to-date with a variety of matters.

We have created our own website so that you can find out more information about our work, access all local planning applications on-line and find out more about our community. We have also offered space on the website to local societies and clubs so that there is a single place to find out all about Welford. We think that this will be a real benefit for all residents. The website address is www.welfordonavon.com. We shall still contribute to the Parish News, not least because our recent survey showed that 30% of residents do not have access to the internet.

The Memorial Hall, like the Parish News, is not the responsibility of the Parish Council and is run by its own Committee. Like many other groups and individuals we are a regular user of this important village amenity.

What are you doing about this new eco-town on the ex MOD site? and the Fire and Rescue proposals?

We are campaigned together with all the other local organisations in BARD to get this development at Middle Quinton stopped and you may have received letters from us and read our reports in the Parish news. The Parish Council’s letters of objection can be seen on our website along with our comments on alternative proposals from St Modwen on its “Masterplan” which have recently been the subject of a planning application. The Government’s decision on Middle Quinton is not expected until June 2010 despite criticism of its sustainability credentials expressed by the panel which considered it as part of the West Midlands Spatial Strategy.

We also campaigned vigorously against the County Council’s proposals to close 7 of the County’s 19 Fire Stations and so far this has resulted in the plan being halted.

Surely people have got to live somewhere and the District needs more affordable housing?

We are not opposed to necessary housing development for the sake of it. Look what we are trying to do about affordable housing in Welford. Also we are not against the “eco” principle but we do not believe that putting a new town in the middle of the countryside without good transport links makes sense. The plans to create employment are not worked through and it could well become yet another commuter town with traffic streaming through Welford on the way to Birmingham and elsewhere. There is no evidence that the town will be any more environmentally sensitive than other developments.

OK, I’m getting the picture about what being a Parish Councillor entails, but what’s in it for me?

We got a tremendous response to the Parish Plan consultation; residents really care about our village. But we need more people to come forward to fill vacancies as and when they arise if we are to ensure that the village continues to flourish under its own steam. Because parish councils are the first tier of government it is important that they continue to be operated effectively by enthusiastic local volunteers. If we cannot recruit enough councillors then Stratford District Council will take over and we do not want that.

If you were to come on board, you would be playing a central role in helping to ensure that your community and village are maintained and enhanced. You would certainly get to know lots more about what makes the village ‘tick’.

Becoming involved in voluntary work, local government and committee activity also develops skills which might be useful for you in other areas of your life.

I don’t have time to be a councillor, I have a full-time job.

The majority of the present councillors are also in full-time occupation, which often takes us away from Welford and Warwickshire. The Parish Council meetings take place monthly, but the drink in the pub afterwards is optional! The time commitment is no more than if you were involved in a sports club, society or another voluntary organisation.

Where can I get more information on being a parish councillor?

Have a look at the Parish Council website to find out more about us and what we do. Our Parish Clerk can also provide more information. The formal bits are in a booklet called ‘Become a Councillor’ which you can download from:
www.nalc.gov.uk/Toolkits/Become_a_councillor/Become_a_councillor.aspx.

Fine, sign me up!

There’s slightly more to it than that because there is a procedure that we have to follow – but if you are over 18, and live in or near Welford and want to make a contribution to the village then you are half way there! Councillors come and go from time to time and we always publish vacancies on the village notice boards and in future on our website as well. If you are interested in becoming a parish councillor or would like to learn more please contact the Parish Clerk on 750414. Good luck!