Birch Village SignYear End Report —
for the year to 31st March 2017

Birch Parish Council

YEAR END REPORT
for the year to 31st March 2017

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 primarily restricted to Birch.

The Police do not attend Parish meetings due to a policy change, cost cutting and reorganization within the Police budget. 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 2016. Traffic congestion during schooltime, 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. This area of the car park has also been upgraded by the Parish Council

Village Facilities Update: New grant funding and donations obtained during this financial year have amounted to (£17,200 excluding VAT). An additional one-off payment of £5,000 was received from the solar farm developers on top of the annual benefit payments. 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.

Funding has been approved to resurface the Basket Ball court and to lay a new hard surface entrance to the Play Area from Luard Way during 2017.

The "Birch Wildlife Area Initiative", which will take around another 2-3 years to become fully established, may require some maintenance funding in 2017.

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 continue to be a problem from time to time. The Parish Council will ban dogs from the Play Area for health & 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 2017, 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. Additional help will be given by the Parish Council towards the upkeep of the Graveyard though responsibility for the overall plan remains with the PCC.

It intended to redefine the emergency and disabled parking bay to stop unauthorized parking but alterations will be subject to the Highways work schedules.

To meet the ROSPA inspections health & safety requirements two 'no-flying' kite signs have been put up within the play area.

As mentioned above, a Wildlife Area has now been created at the Luard Way entrance end to the site. The access onto the play area from Luard Way will be improved during 2017 from Parish Council funds.

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 via the local community benefit contracts.

An additional one-off payment of £5,000 was received in 2016 to reflect the extended life of one of the Solar Farms.

Money from the Solar Farm developments is ring-fenced for significant project expenditure as required, that will benefit residents.

Essex Wildlife Trust: The Parish Council continues to work 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 was made to the Royal British Legion towards their Poppy Appeal fund.

Planning: No further progress has occurred regarding the status of St Peter's Church. The Church Commissioners have proposed that St Peter's 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's 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 late 2017.

After the intervention of the Parish Council and Ward Councillors the development of 15 new houses in Birch Street, as part of the CBC Local Housing Plan, was dropped. It was noted that Birch does not have the necessary infrastructure to support further major developments.

The development of Abberton Reservoir continues to be 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 general 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 given to a new contractor who currently cuts Copford. The Parish Council will be redirecting increased expenditure to this service to improve the standard of cutting and the resulting finished work.

Village Cleaning: As Birch and the Maldon Road are part of CBC cleaning department regular rounds for sweeping and litter picking, general tidiness in the Parish is good. 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.

A dual initiative by the Parish Council with the Zone Wardens has resulted in a number of litter picks being carried out by volunteers during the year. The Parish Council has also purchased the necessary equipment to carry out specific litter picks and grass strimming services as required.

Dog Fouling has been less of a problem during the year, with steps being taken to improve the situation with the monitoring of 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 Councilor 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 Highway issues 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 Cllr Ellis, Cllr Maclean and particularly Cllr Bentley for keeping on top of all requests and actioning them in a timely manner.

An ongoing problem to find out who owns all parts of Birch Park Bridge/Dam is still at the ECC legal dept. It is hoped that a solution to this situation is found soon to allow the temporary repair measures to be replaced with a permanent solution.

Shop Mobility Bus: The shopper's bus service to Sainsbury's was stopped during the year following a review by ECC of all bus services in the county.

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 full plan will not be carried out until a decision has been made on the future of St Peter's Church.

Birch Surgery: For financial reasons Stanway Winstree Practice closed Birch Surgery during 2016. Despite representations from the Parish Council, Borough Councillors, the local member for Parliament and a number of residents another solution to the problem could not be found.

Defibrillators: Two defibrillators have been installed by the TVCA at the Village Hall and the Hare & Hounds Public House. Ongoing training will be given to interested residents and those who use the hall. A donation of £250 was approved for the Ambulance First Responders who cover the Birch Area towards the purchase of operational equipment.

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 all 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 2015/16 and it is hoped that they can do this again in the spring of 2018.

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 improved fast broadband during 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 the 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.

Heckfordbridge Area: It is hoped that the bridge fences will be cleaned and repainted during 2017. Highways have this on their to-do list but it is not a priority. This also appears to be the case with flooding at the Birch Park junction.

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

Parish Council Website: The Parish Council's website (www.birchpc.org.uk) was expanded during the year to meet the government's Transparency Code of operation by Parish Councils and is 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.

Parish News: Birch Parish Council is still supporting the production of 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.

Date of next end year meeting will be in April 2018, date and time to be confirmed.