Birch Village SignYear End Report —
for the year to 31st March 2016

Birch Parish Council

YEAR END REPORT
for the year to 31st March 2016

B1022 Old Post Office Junction: ECC has continued in making improvements to safety at the junction with better road markings and the installation of clearer signage. The resurfacing of the B1022 appears to have helped in cutting down skidding on the bend.

Neighbourhood Watch: The number of unsociable behaviour incidents has reduced although there have been minor ones reported during the year. Incidents that do occur tend to be in the area as a whole and not primary restricted to Birch. The Police do not attend Parish meetings due to a policy change, cost cutting and reorganization within the Police budget. A monthly Police Crime Report is sent to most meetings for discussion. Parish Councils believe that this is to the detriment of Police Neighbourhood links with residents.

Police: In general it is felt that communication between the Parish Council and the local Police has decreased because of the reduced presence at Parish meetings and the lack of on the ground visibility of uniformed Police. Requests however are actioned in a timely manner.

The main concern to residents continues to be general safety as well as traffic problems near to Birch School though there have been less problems during the 2015. Traffic congestion during school time as well as general parking in the area is poor. More use has been made of the Village Hall overflow parking area when it is available.

Village Facilities Update: New grant funding and donations obtained during this financial year have amounted to (£15,000 excluding VAT). The majority of this money together with funding obtained in the previous year was or will be spent at the Play Area and on the Village Hall Toilet Area and entrance hall refurbishment. Over £2,000 has been spent on Play Area equipment maintenance and repairs.

The "Birch Wildlife Area Initiative" which will take another round 2 - 3 years to become fully established and may require some maintenance funding in 2016.

The main ongoing projects for Parish funding remain continued improvements to the Play Area and Village Hall facilities.

Improvements at the Play Area: In general there has been an improvement in the disposal of litter but the ongoing dog fouling problems at the site continues to be a problem from time to time. The Parish Council will ban dogs from the Play Area for health and safety reasons if the situation does not improve and fines will be issued to offenders.

Grass cutting issues highlighted by a number of residents will be improved in the spring 2016, with extra funding being made available by the Parish Council for the areas they currently cover. Some other grassed areas are the responsibility of CBC who have cut back on the frequency of visits to undertake this work.

As mentioned above a Wildlife Area has now been created at the Luard Way entrance end to the site. It was hoped to improve the access onto the play area from Luard Way during 2016.

Funding is difficult to obtain in the present economic climate but additional income of around £6,700 per annum will be available for a number of years from the two Solar Farm developments within the Parish. This money will be ring fenced for significant project expenditure that will benefit residents.

Essex Wildlife Trust: The Parish Council is still working with the trust regarding their "Living Landscape" vision for the surrounding area. A number of suggestions have been made on how to improve the nature facilities for local residents. The Parish Council's own ongoing project "Birch Wildlife Initiative" is still reviewed on a regular basis.

Remembrance Sunday: This occasion was again well supported by residents, with the Parish Council opening the Village Hall for tea and coffee. A donation of £50.00 was made to the Royal British Legion towards their Poppy Appeal fund.

Planning: The Church Commissioners have proposed that St Peter's Church be demolished for safety reasons, which had been on hold for a number of years. The Parish Council agrees that this is the most logical outcome if another non-residential use cannot be found before demolition, but has been given assurances that the footprint of the building would be maintained with historical notice boards and benches being installed for residents and future visitors to the site. The Parish Council current position is that it does not support a residential development in an open graveyard.

At present a residential development proposal for the Church has been sent to the Secretary of State who has called for an inquiry into the proposal. This is likely to take place in 2016.

Two Solar Farms have been completed within the boundaries of the Parish. One at the Birch Airfield site and the other on land near Rectory Corner. As stated above the Parish will gain a substantial financial benefit from these developments.

The expansion of Abberton Reservoir has been monitored particularly regarding any potential increase in traffic through the Parish, which has been minimal. Traffic has increased in recent months however due to the extensive road resurfacing work in the area.

Grass Cutting: The contract for grass cutting as well as extra projects such as vegetation cut-backs and maintenance in the Parish has been put out to tender. As stated previously the Parish Council will be redirecting increased expenditure to this service to improve the standard of cutting and the resulting finished work.

Village Cleaning: Following Birch and the Maldon Road being added to the CBC cleaning department regular rounds for sweeping and litter picking, general tidiness in the parish has improved. Regular litter pick up is also now carried out in Birch Park and other areas of the Parish by Zone Warden Gary Cole and the rest of the Zone Wardens team. The Parish Council continues to fund cleaning of the Play Area.

Dog fouling is a common problem which despite steps being taken to improve the situation with the installation of new bins and regular visits by CBC dog wardens. At the end of the day however it is Birch residents who really have the responsibility of improving the situation by clearing up after their pets.

Footpaths: Work has taken place to improve access to the main footpaths and where possible improve access for wheeled chairs. A team of volunteers has continued to report back on any work that needs to be carried out on any right of way in the parish. Due to cut backs by ECC in the frequency of visits to do this work the Parish Council thanks the local land owners and Parish Councillor David Ninnim for their efforts in keep the paths accessible during the year.

Potholes, Flooding and Signs: The Parish Council has received more complaints about surface problems than any other agenda item during the past 12 months. Though many people might not think so, Birch is fortunate that the Highways team reacts quite quickly to problems reported in a time of severe budgetary cuts though quite often repairs are delayed because of water problems or road gritting priorities which are carried out by the same people at the Highways Dept. Residents often feel that if a better repair was carried out first time repeat problems would not occur.

This has been a particularly bad year for road surface incidents and it has not helped that much of the repair work carried out has been of poor quality but in general they have been dealt with efficiently. Many of the Parish roads were resurfaced during the year. A special mention is made to Cllrs. Ellis and Bentley for keeping on top of all requests and actioning them in a timely manner. The recent complete resurfacing of Mill Lane in particular was due to their continued lobbying to get the work done.

An ongoing problem to find out who owns all parts of Birch Park Bridge/Dam is still at the ECC legal dept.

Maldon Road/Lower Road Junction: After a long campaign the central reservation crossings on the Maldon Road have been refurbished with new safety bollards and road signs together with appropriate road markings in and around the area of the junction.

Shop Mobility Bus: The shoppers' bus service to Sainsbury's has been well used by residents during the year. The service operates from the village each Wednesday. Due to cut backs by ECC it is possible that the service may stop at the end of April 2016 however there is a strong possibility that the service will continue as a local company may be signed up to sponsor the service very soon.

St Peter's Church Graveyard: The Church graveyard is not the responsibility of the Parish Council but the PCC; however the Parish Council has worked with the PCC during the year on a plan to have the Graveyard cleared and maintained on a regular basis as well as to improve the general safety and presentation of the site. The plan will not be carried out in full until a decision has been made on the future of St Peter's Church.

Birch Surgery: For financial reasons Stanway Winstree Practice have indicated that they want to close Birch Surgery during 2016. Despite representations from the Parish Council, Borough Councillors, the local member for Parliament and a number of residents it seems likely that this proposal will be carried out. Alternative arrangements are being considered but no further information is available for publication at the time of writing this report.

Fly Tipping: Many locations such as Lower Road, Birch Park and Pudding Lane have continued to be used by fly tippers during the year. CBC Zone Wardens have worked hard in getting rubbish cleared away and residents have been vigilant in reporting any cases of tipping as soon as they occur. This problem is not restricted to Birch but to the local area in general.

Parish Benches: All benches are now part of a regular ongoing maintenance and review scheme to give residents more places to sit and enjoy all aspects within the community. The CBC Zone wardens carried out this programme during 2014/15 and it is hoped that they can do this again in the spring of 2016.

Birch Park Width Restrictions: Due to the weakness of Birch Park dam/bridge a weight restriction of three tons and width restriction of 6'- 6" is in place on this route which is enforced by the by the highways department and supported by the Parish Council following safety concerns. Discussions are currently taking place to stop the water problems in Birch Park that cause large pot holes on a regular basis. A permanent solution will not be actioned however until ownership of all sections of the dam/bridge is established.

Rural Broadband: Interest in the new Rural Community Broadband fund has been registered by the Parish Council as well as ongoing communication with other nearby Parishes who are also improving broadband speeds to their villages, in some cases by using Wi-Fi. The Parish of Birch is due to get fast broadband by early 2017.

Parish Precept: Though the CBC grant element of the Parish funding was reduced again this year. After another successful year by the Parish Council in securing other sources of funding to support Parish projects and improve facilities, there was no need to increase the amount residents paid towards the Parish Precept.

ECC Salt Bag Scheme: It was agreed not to participate in the scheme after discussing insurance liability as well as storage and distribution issues. The main route through the village is a priority gritting route on ECC gritting list. The Council would consider the scheme again next year if volunteers come forward who would be interested in storing and distributing the salt bags.

Village Sign: The Parish Council had maintenance work and cleaning carried out on the Village Sign during the spring 2014. Due to the condition of the wood within the sign it was recommended that further inspection and maintenance be carried out in 2016.

Heckfordbridge Area: After a long campaign two new bus stops have been installed near to the Angel Public House. New signs have been installed on the Maldon Road either side of Birch Park indicating that Birch Park is not suitable for Heavy Traffic. A new Birch sign has also been put up to replace one previously stolen. Line of sight on the bridge has been improved following the cut back of the trees by the landlord of the Angel Public House. It is hoped that the bridge fences will be cleaned and repainted during the early part of 2016.

Communication with Residents: The Parish Council has continued to keep residents informed on what is happening in the village via its meetings, the Parish Website, the local press and the parish notice boards.

Parish Website: The Parish website, www.birchpc.org.uk, was expanded during the year and is now updated on a regular basis. The site complements other sources of information available for residents of Birch in both electronic and hard copy formats. Special mention is made to Mr. Carr who as the Webmaster has continued to work with the council on a voluntary basis to keep the site updated on an ongoing basis, as well as acting as an advisor on matters concerning St Peter's Church and the Birch Surgery.

Parish News: Birch Parish Council is still supporting the production of the Parish News and notes the excellent job that is done for the PCC by the editor Geoff Russell Grant and his team of writers and distributors.

Japanese Knotweed: There were three cases of Japanese Knotweed reported again to the Parish Council during the year which was dealt with by CBC or the landowners concerned.

Date of next end year meeting will be in April 2017 date and time to be confirmed.