External auditors ask Hughenden Parish Council to explain why it’s giving away its allotments

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27 March 2021

I have blogged on a number of occasions about Hughenden Parish Council’s intention to give away four of its allotments and other land to a charity known as Hughenden Community Support Trust. HPC then intends to lease back the land from HCST and pay rent (see blogs 20 July and 10 May 2020 below).

HPC have signed – or are just about to sign - the leases and transfer the titles on the Land Registry to HCST. HPC seem intent on doing this before the May elections.

Last July, I made a formal objection to the external auditors about this transfer and the related expenditure. On 25 March 2021, the auditors asked HPC for their response to my objections.

The land which HPC is giving away is:

- The allotments on Windmill Lane in Widmer End

- The allotments on Speen Road in North Dean - The allotments on Louches Lane in Naphill

- The allotments on Main Road in Walters Ash

- Land on Common Road (2 sites)

If this happens, the Charity Commission has made it clear that it expects HCST to maximise its assets for the purposes of the charity which is the relief of the poor. This means HCST would be under pressure from the Commission to sell at least some of the land, probably to developers.

The land is worth at least £86,000. As the sites are in areas of sustainable development, the land could be worth £15 million.

The land has been registered to HPC on the Land Registry with absolute title and has been since 1958. HPC has legal advice that it is the registered proprietor.

Neither HPC nor HCST has provided any evidence that HCST has any legal or other claim to the land.

In disposing of land, councils are required by law to get the best consideration that “can reasonably be obtained” – which HPC obviously hasn’t done. Councils are allowed to sell or let allotments if they are surplus – but not, as in this case, give away allotments which are needed.

So, why has HPC decided to give the land away and break the law? Why on earth are they doing this? I am totally baffled but perhaps HPC can give a satisfactory answer to the auditors.

In leasing the land back, HPC would commit to paying HCST thousands of pounds each year for the next 99 years.

So, why is HPC is giving away land it owns and then leasing it back? Perhaps HPC can give a satisfactory answer to the auditors on this as well.

In addition, HPC has spent tens of thousands of pounds on legal fees to make the transfer – not just its own fees but those of HCST as well.

So, why is HPC not only giving the land away but is paying the legal fees of the other party? Perhaps HPC can give a satisfactory answer to the auditors on this too.

Last November, I also made two formal complaints about the behaviour of the Chairman of HPC, Cllr Paul Nicholls, in relation to the transfer of this land. These complaints were made to the Monitoring Officer in Bucks Council.

I have so far maintained confidentiality on these complaints at the request of the Monitoring Officer. However, in view of the apparently imminent signing of the leases and the transfer of the land with the Land Registry, I am no longer maintaining confidentiality. The complaints are reproduced below.

The Monitoring Officer has decided my complaints are eligible and will decide shortly whether to investigate.

Complaints against Cllr Nicholls

1. Providing misleading information between 2014 and January 2020

My complaint is that between 2015 and February 2020, Cllr. Nichols, as Chairman or Vice Chairman of Hughenden Parish Council, was either negligent or dishonest when he repeatedly misinformed the Council and the public as to the advice about ownership of the land and this is conduct which is contrary to the Code of Conduct.

In essence, Cllr Nichols personally misinformed and misled Hughenden Parish Council and the public as to the content of legal advice sought from Queens Counsel in 2014 regarding allotments in the Parish. My complaint is that Cllr Nichols reported that the QC had advised that the various allotments within the Parish were owned by Hughenden Community Support Trust (HCST) and that while Hughenden Parish Council were registered as land owner they were in fact Custodial Trustees, whereas in fact this advice had been neither received nor requested. I and other residents have challenged Cllr Nichols on multiple occasions regarding this but he maintained his position.

2. Continuing to provide misleading information after February 2020

On 10th February 2020, the Clerk wrote to Cllr Nichols to advise that Queen’s Counsel had not been asked to provide advice on the ownership of the land. From this point on, Mr. Nichols’ statements to his fellow councillors and the public were therefore made expressly against the advice of the Clerk which was not made public.

Mr Nichols again misled councillors and the public in his personal note to the Council on 28th April, when he reported that QC was of the view that the “PC did not have title to the land”. That note also contains other misleading statements including that “The Charity Commission is of the view that the Parish Council did not have title to the land”. The Charity Commission has no jurisdiction to determine the title to land, a view subsequently confirmed by the Commission. This note was also misleading in that it omitted relevant information, including that, when asked, HSCT had failed to offer any documentation on their claim to ownership. The note was therefore not only misleading it also did not “attach appropriate weight to all relevant consideration”, nor “pay regard to the advice of officers” which is a requirement of HPC’s Code of Conduct. Cllr. Nichols therefore breached the Code.

Local councillors provide no help to residents in Widmer End on travellers

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14 March 2021

Residents ask why I am standing as an independent for Bucks Council when I don’t stand a chance. This is why - to provide an alternative to local councillors who don’t respond to requests from residents for help and support.

For nine months, residents of Widmer End have pressed Bucks Council to take enforcement action against a land owner. Last summer, the land owner smashed through a hedge from North Road, the main road through the village, into a small wood, cut down trees and built a large wooden building – all on land in the Green Belt and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

Local councillors, Cllrs Steve Broadbent and Carroll, met with the land owners in June last year. Cllr Broadbent told residents the owners had recently bought the land to keep a horse – despite the land having no grazing, no water and no access for vehicles.

He also advised residents that there was apparently no planning infringement. This advice was incorrect; Council officers subsequently made it clear that planning permission was required.

Since then, our local councillors seem to have done precisely nothing.

I made a formal complaint to the Council’s enforcement team last June. Since then, I have been pressing the Council repeatedly to take action. So too has Cllr Hugh McCarthy (who is not one of our local councillors but a resident). An enforcement notice has been in preparation since last October.

Now residents find out that it is highly likely the new land owners are travellers.

Understandably residents are very worried and have asked Cllr Broadbent and Carroll to resolve the matter urgently. Residents have received no response (except I believe a phone call).

However, some residents did get an e-mail (at 10.48 last Friday night) from Warren Whyte, Bucks Council’s Cabinet member for Planning and Enforcement. The e-mail was sent to Cllr McCarthy. That e-mail and my response are below as I think it might be helpful to residents directly affected.

Cllrs Broadbent and Carroll have been invited to a residents’ meeting on Wednesday evening. We will see if they come and answer questions. (Details of the meeting can be obtained from the Secretary of Widmer End Residents’ Association or through my contact page on this blogsite.)

From Warren Whyte to Hugh McCarthy 

“Dear Hugh

I was surprised to see your email yesterday about concerns about the above enforcement case.

I am pleased to confirm that the local councillors are on top of this case, and the council's enforcement officer has been working on it and I anticipate the new enforcement manager to review the formal notice in the next few days.

Regards, Warren"

From Linda Derrick to Warren Whyte

"Dear Warren

It is good that you have seized the urgency of the situation – and e-mailed at such a late hour. It is also good that the council’s officers are working on the enforcement notice.

I thought it would be helpful to set out the background, below, to this issue – not least for the residents of North Road who are most concerned about the prospect of travellers occupying this land.

From this, you will see that, contrary to what you say, our local councillors have never been on top of this case; they met, presumably with the travellers, back in June last year and advised residents that all the new owners wanted to do was keep a horse – on land that had no grazing, no water and no access for vehicles, and where a lot of trees had to be cut down to build some rather large “stables”.

Our local councillors also advised us that there was apparently no infringement; this was incorrect and officers have since made it clear that planning permission was needed.

Since then, our local councillors seem to have done precisely nothing to press for action and ensure that residents knew what was happening.

I also have to point out that if I had not made a formal complaint in June last year – and if Hugh had not repeatedly pressed for action – nothing would have been done and we would not now be in a position to issue a notice at all.

I also have to point out that it is nearly nine months since my complaint went to the enforcement team and still no notice – only an assurance that a review will be done in the next few days.

Residents are deeply worried about this issue and I hope the notice can be issued by Wednesday when the residents meet and that we can have a copy of the notice urgently.

Kind regards

Linda

BACKGROUND

The land in question used to consist of a small wood on North Road separated from the road by a large and high hedge. There was no entrance to the wood from North Road.

On 17 June last year, a resident raised concerns to Cllr Hugh McCarthy who lives on North Road; someone had made a large entrance from North Road onto the land, large enough for a lorry, destroying a section of the hedge. About half the wood had been cut down and a wooden building erected.

Cllr McCarthy passed these concerns the next day to our local councillors, Cllrs Broadbent and Carroll and also to Cllr Katrina Wood, copying to members of the residents’ association including myself.

Cllr Broadbent responded on 19 June to say that he and Cllr Carroll had taken it up with officers and he was “not aware of any development plans for the site”.

Cllr Broadbent responded again on 20 June with an update after he and Cllr Carroll had visited the site and met the new owners who said they had recently acquired the plot; they intended to “keep a horse with shelter, on the plot” and “the vegetation clearance was being undertaken with this in mind”.

Cllr Broadbent said there appeared to be no infringement but added “ Obviously, the information provided by the landowner is, currently, to be taken at face value but any future building or development on the plot would be subject to the planning process and regulations”.

Presumably the new owners that Cllrs Broadbent and Carroll met were travellers.

I was sceptical about the information provided by the new owners. If someone wants to keep a horse, they normally buy a field to provide grazing and with water and vehicular access; it made little sense for a horse owner to buy a wood with no water, no grazing and no access to the road. I also thought the erection of a building in GB/ANOB required planning permission.

So I made a formal complaint to the BC enforcement team and the case was assigned to Sean Wilkinson who notified me on 23 June 2020.

On 6 July, Cllr McCarthy wrote again to local councillors saying residents were still concerned and sent photographs showing the extent of the clearance of the trees (not vegetation) and the building which had been erected. He asked that local members call this in for detailed examination, hoping this would result in a stop order in order to allow more detailed understanding of the developers’ intentions.

In July, some very large fencing went up across the large gap in the hedge. On 7 July, Sean Wilkinson confirmed that the land in question was Green Belt and AONB.

The same day Cllr McCarthy replied suggesting “any development in the AONB needs permission and has also to be vetted by the CCB planning group”. He thought that an immediate stop order was the way forward, and that should include the entrance area which was an eyesore right at the entrance to the village. Local ward members were copied in.

I wrote to support these suggestions and also asked Sean if he could let us know who the land owners were. I pointed out that the land was registered on the Land Registry to James Taylor Construction Ltd but Cllrs Carroll and Broadbent saw “new owners" and it would be helpful to know who they were.

On 20 July, Sean responded to say he would be visiting the site the next week in order to check what works have been on site and to assess the expediency of taking further action

On 10 August, I asked Sean if he could give an update.

On 18 August responded to say he had

“written to the owners of the land a few weeks ago, in which we have requested they either submit a retrospective planning application for the works on site and the new access, or to remove the all works on site including the access.

We have given a deadline of the end of August for any planning applications to be submitted or to confirm the removal of the works.

To date we have not heard anything back from the owners yet and we will review the situation / our next options once this deadline has expired, should no applications be received.”

Sean did not inform us who the new owners were.

On 1 October, I asked Sean again if there was any progress. As there was no retrospective planning application, I assumed all the works would have to be removed.

On 8 October, Sen responded to confirm that BC had still not heard anything back from the owners of the land. He had emailed the Highway Department in order to obtain their comments / concerns on highway safety regarding the creation of the new access point and large wooden fencing off North Road.

He said that “Once we have received these comments, we will be pursuing formal action for the removal of these works through a planning enforcement notice.

Please be assured that our case remains open and we will be pursuing the removal of the works on site as soon as possible”.

On 2 December, I asked Sean once again if there was any progress with the enforcement notice. He responded the same day, confirming that BC were proceeding with the notice as planned, although he had to re-visit the site in order to take additional measurements for his records which had caused a slight delay.”

On 22 February, I wrote again to Sean asking if there was any progress. I have had no response.

On 10 March I wrote again to Sean because it appeared from the Land Registry that the land had been registered to travellers on 17 September 2020.

 

What’s happening in Greater Hughenden?

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23 February 2021

I thought I would update some local issues (full details are in my previous blogs below).

But before I start, I should point out, in the spirit of openness, that I will stand as an independent for Ridgeway East in the local elections in May. My manifesto is on my front page. Candidates aren’t allowed to canvass or leaflet (yet) but I am on Facebook.

On the planning front, we are still waiting for the developers’ plans for Terriers which will have a major impact on the south of the area.

A decision is pending on the development at Uplands of 70 homes, although this is largely about landscaping and the preservation of existing features like an ancient hedge rather than the housing. A decision is also pending on the development at Glynswood for 50 homes. Both these developments are on Green Belt and in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The development for Clappins Lane was approved by Bucks Council in November last year. Clappins Lane was in the Green Belt but was removed from the Green Belt a few years ago. Bucks Council and the developers completed what are called Section 106 agreements this month covering the developers’ obligations for affordable housing, the environment and payments to the Council. The agreements are on Bucks Council’s website.

An application by Becks Builders and Contractors Ltd to develop a site in Sunny Bank was approved last August by Bucks Council – a site where the developer did not even own any of the land. I don’t know if the developer has bought any of the land involved but no detailed plans have been submitted for approval.

Last year, a large entrance was made to the hedgerow on North Road, half a small wood cut down and a wooden building erected. The registered land owner was James Taylor Construction Ltd. The land owner apparently informed local councillors that he intended to keep horses there (even though there is no supply of water and no grazing). The land is in the Green Belt and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

I made a formal complaint to BC’s enforcement team and they required the land owner to put in a retrospective planning application by the end of August or take the building down. No application was submitted so the enforcement team is progressing a formal enforcement notice to remove the building. But no, it won’t bring the trees back and the building was still there the last time I passed. 

Speaking of which, tree planting by the local councils is virtually non-existent. As far as I am aware, neither Bucks Council nor Hughenden Parish Council has planted one tree in the ward in the past 6 years, an astounding record.

The trees on Widmer End Recreation Ground were cut down last year, including some beautiful poplars. The replacement trees are recovering from last years drought. The whole area continues to be prone to flooding.

In January last year, Hughenden Parish Council (HPC) had to acknowledge that it had unlawfully co-opted its councillors for over 4 years. It had ignored my concerns about this for months and in the end had to formally apologise to me – twice - on legal advice for the way in which it handled my concerns. 7 “councillors” had to stand down leaving the Council barely quorate.

HPC then sought legal advice and co-opted another 10 councillors. I was concerned that these co-options too would be unlawful. Freedom of information requests  revealed that the legal advice was based on inaccurate information provided by the Clerk and was unsound. My concerns have been ignored by HPC; it has not even asked its legal advisors to review their advice based on the correct information.

Meanwhile, decisions about the leases on the allotments are stalled. I was concerned that HPC intended to sign leases unlawfully with a local charity. My concerns had been ignored.

So I put in formal complaints about both these possible unlawful actions by HPC with the external auditors in October last year. The auditors have said the complaints are eligible and are for consideration. Trouble is the external auditors have another 8000 other local councils to assess and the weeks have stretched into months.

The footpaths around Grange Farm are open once again thanks to the enforcement team at Bucks Council and the police – although you do need your wellies. Other footpaths remain blocked, despite complaints to Bucks Council, including ones around the recreation ground.

The footpaths around Cockshoot Woods are in a shocking state. One of the footpaths runs through a field owned by Becks Builders and Contractors Ltd and the field is once again a complete tip. It would also be good if HPC, which owns Cockshoot Woods, could start work to make the paths through the Woods statutory rights of way. The whole area is in the Green Belt, an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and a conservation area.

Conservative councillors do too little, too late to stop development at Naphill

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13 November 2020

On Tuesday, the West Buckinghamshire Area Planning Committee approved an application to build 63 homes in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in Naphill.  Naphill is a village to the north west of Wycombe.  Over 300 residents had objected to the application. 

Area of development at Naphill

The Committee heard objections from two local Conservative councillors, Cllrs Carroll and Broadbent, and representatives from Hughenden Parish Council and the Naphill and Walters Ash Residents' Association.   They did a pretty good job of representing residents' concerns in the 3 minutes each was allowed. 

There was general consensus that the AONB should be protected and no-one wanted to see it built on.  However, the Committee voted by 8 votes to 2 to approve the application. 

The trouble is the battle to stop the development had already been lost.

Stage 1 of the battle had been won by the Conservative Government and the developers some years ago when the Government told Wycombe District Council to find new sites for tens of thousands of extra homes.  No new sites, said the Conservative Government, no Government approval for Wycombe's local plan. No local plan, said the Conservative Government, and developers could do pretty well what they liked.

Where were our local Conservative MPs when the Government made these demands for new sites?  Were they out there objecting in public?  And where were our local Conservative councillors?  What did they do then to object?   

The answers I think are nowhere, no, nowhere and nothing.

Stage 2 of the battle was won by the Conservative Government and the developers when the site at Naphill was removed from the Green Belt and proposed for residential use in Wycombe's local plan.  The plans went through a planning enquiry and were approved by a planning inspector last year. 

And again you might ask what our local councillors did during the planning enquiry?  Did they make written objections about the proposals to develop on AONB sites, including Naphill?  Did they speak at the enquiry? 

The answers I think are nothing, no and no. 

So there was no chance on Tuesday of stopping the development; the site was already approved for residential use and the application complied with the guidance.  It would have been no good councillors on the Committee refusing because the developers would have appealed.  The developers would almost certainly have won, and at considerable expense to the taxpayer.  

In any case, as some members of the Committee pointed out, there were other places in Bucks having to put up with larger and more intensive developments than the one at Naphill.

The only good news is that nearly 50% of the new homes will be "affordable". 

The bad news is that under the Conservative Government's new White Paper, local councillors and residents in future won't even be able to have a say - it will all be done from Whitehall.  And Bucks Council can't even bring itself to object to these proposals (see my blog of November on my housing page). 

The webcast is at https://buckinghamshire.public-i.tv/core/portal/webcast_interactive/520232/start_time/249000

P.S. I have to say I was impressed with the professionalism of the Chairman, officers and (most of the) members of the Committee. 

 

 

What’s happening at Sunny Bank - and the developers’ new charter.

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6 August 2020

The Government published a white paper today proposing radical changes to the planning system. I always think planning is one of those boring issues which no-one understands and everyone ignores – until it’s too late.

So perhaps it would be worth looking at a small local planning proposal under the current system, and then consider what will happen in the future.

My example is an application for permission in principle (known as PIP) made by a local company called Beeks Building Contractors and Developers. The company has applied to build two three-bedroom houses on a street called Sunny Bank. It proposes to build on half of a small strip of land running alongside the pavement and on half of two gardens of houses on Brimmers Hill which back onto Sunnybank (see plan below).

The strip of land is not owned by Beeks and is currently planted with cherry trees and is used as a community space, for example during the VE Day celebrations. Nor does Beeks own half of either of the two gardens; they are owned by the residents on Brimmers Hill.

So you might ask how can a developer apply for permission in principle to build on land he does not own? And the simple answer is that the planning system allows it.

About 30 residents and the residents’ association objected to the PIP application. (Hughenden Parish Council, which is a statutory consultee, did not object). Residents objected on the following grounds:

• Problems of traffic congestion on a blind and dangerous bend

• Problems of parking in this congested cul-de-sac

• Problems during construction as there will be no way in or out if the narrow road is blocked

• Lack of amenity in removing green space

• Loss of privacy to residents in Sunnybank and on Brimmers Hill

• Over-development

• Garden-grabbing by a speculative developer

• Problems with drains, soakaways and sewerage

• Problems with flooding

PIP applications cannot be “called in” to a Council planning committee and decided by elected councillors; Bucks Council’s constitution explicitly reserves decisions on PIP applications to officers. This is because, under the changes made to the planning system in 2017, a council has to make a decision on a PIP application within 5 weeks – otherwise the application is approved by default. This means there is not time for PIP applications to go to a planning committee of councillors.

In the Sunny Bank case, Bucks Council received the PIP application on 10 July, it was put out for consultation on 17 July and residents then had two weeks to comment. The case officer has to make a decision by 14 August.

The case officer is only able to consider three issues in making his decision - location, land use and the amount of development. I have no idea how many of the residents’ objections fall under these three issues.

If a PIP application is granted, then the developer has three years to submit the technical details of the proposal. Again there would be a 14 day consultation period and the council would need to make a decision within five weeks.

I have no idea at what point the developer is required to actually own the land to be developed or get approval from the land owner – in this case, three sets of residents.

I must say I find it pretty scary that a developer can get planning permission to build on land without the owners’ consent – and, if the landowners happens to be on holiday for the relevant 2 week consultation period, then they have little or no chance to even comment.

Most planning applications are decided by officers but, if there is concern by residents, councillors can decide. But there is no opportunity for elected representatives to make decisions for the PIP process. I think this is undemocratic.

I am grateful to my local councillors and to the case officer for their prompt and helpful advice in explaining the process.

The Government’s White Paper proposes that in future land will be classified into three zones, with planning permission awarded automatically if proposals meet certain criteria. Much of the local scrutiny and decision-making will be scrapped. If you want to learn more, links are below.

The Local Government Association is opposed to the proposals. Many charities are opposed to the proposals. The Royal Institute of British Architects called the proposals “shameful”. The Labour shadow housing minister called them a “developer’s charter”. The Government says the proposals will solve the problems of the current planning system which it says is “desperately broken”. The Town and Country Planning Association has called on the government to provide evidence to back this statement.

The Telegraph’s comment section said the proposals were the work of Dominic Cummings and would “provoke Tory shires into outright rebellion,” with the system “descending into a free-for-all”. I must say it would be good to see a Tory rebellion on this in Bucks.

The White Paper was launched by the housing minister, Robert Jenrick, still heavily criticised for his involvement in a 'cash-for access' scandal involving approval for a £1billion property development for a Tory donor which saved the donor tens of millions of pounds.

I’ll leave you with an extract from the White Paper. It says the new system would “make it easier for those who want to build beautifully through the introduction of a fast-track for beauty through changes to national policy and legislation, to automatically permit proposals for high-quality developments where they reflect local character and preferences.

There will therefore be no need to submit a further planning application to test whether the site can be approved.”

I have no idea what this means. Nor who is going to decide who is building “beautifully” or what constitutes a fast-track for “beauty”. Probably Dominic Cummings.

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/aug/05/how-the-planning-system-shakeup-will-affect-uk-housing

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/aug/06/robert-jenrick-housing-planning-honest-bob

Why does Hughenden Parish Council intend to unlawfully lease land from itself?

20 July 2020

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Last week I made a formal objection to the Annual Governance and Accountability Return of Hughenden Parish Council to the external auditors. The objection is about the ownership of six pieces of land in Hughenden legally defined as allotments. This is a long running issue. 

HPC believes (or believed until very recently) that the titles to these six pieces of land were transferred in some way to a charity called Hughenden Community Support Trust (HCST) in 2015. Or perhaps it believes the titles were transferred in some way to the Official Custodian on behalf of HCST. I am not sure which it believes.

HPC also believes, although it says it is not absolutely sure, that the land is owned, for some reason, by HCST.

In line with these beliefs, HPC confirmed earlier this year that it would lease these six pieces of land from HCST. The leases are finalised and ready to sign.

The leases would be for 99 years and, under the leases, HPC would pay HCST annual rent for the land of about £3000. HPC also decided to pay £15,500 in back rent to HCST.

HOWEVER, all this land is registered with absolute titles with the Land Registry to HPC. The land has been registered with absolute title to HPC since 1958. Whatever HPC thinks happened in 2015, the land is still firmly registered to the parish council.

This means that HPC intends to lease land, and pay rent, for land which is registered to itself. And I believe this is unlawful.

For months, I have been asking for an explanation from HPC as to how it can lease land from itself. No response.

I now know from documents released to me earlier this month that HPC has tried repeatedly over the past few months to get evidence or legal advice that HCST owns the land.

Instead, HPC’s solicitors have actually confirmed that HPC is the registered proprietor and HPC has found no evidence that HCST owns the land.

Paul Nicholls, HPC’s Chairman, said he was “disappointed”. It makes you wonder why the Chairman of a parish council would be disappointed to find out that valuable assets of the council are actually owned by ….the council. I would be delighted, particularly as it saves taxpayers thousands of pounds.

Here is what has been happening:

• HCST has failed to provide HPC with any definitive documentation stating that HCST were owners of the land.

• BP Collins, HPC’s solicitors, were unable to provide any assurance to HPC that HPC was in fact only custodial trustees of the land rather than the owner. It confirmed that HPC was the registered proprietor, that HPC’s title to the land was absolute and that there was no reference to the land being held by a custodian trustee; it also advised that there would normally be a reference if land was held by a custodian trustee.

• Wellers Hedleys, another firm of solicitors, concluded that the question of ownership was “academic” as HPC had already decided that it belonged to HCST.

• HPC’s Clerk advised HPC councillors that HPC never actually asked Queen’s Counsel in 2014 who owned the land (which is what I and other residents have been saying for years and is directly contrary to what residents have been told repeatedly by HPC’s Chairman).

• The Charity Commission said it cannot confirm that HCST is the owner of the land as it has no power to determine the title to any property. 

So there we are. HPC is the registered proprietor of the land. It holds the land with absolute title. And there is no evidence that HCST has any title to the land and no evidence that it owns the land.

HPC continues to ignore these facts and is proceeding to sign the leases. It has provided no explanation for why it is unlawfully leasing land from itself. So the only way to try to bring it to account is a formal objection to the external auditor.

P.S. The land consists of 10.7 acres.

If it was sold as arable land, it would be worth £8,000 per acre i.e. the land is worth £86,000.

If it was sold with outline planning permission for housing (all the sites are in areas of sustainable development) it would be worth about £1/1.5 million per acre i.e. 11 – 16 million.

Disposal of council land is covered by the Local Government Act 1972 S. 127 which requires the land to be sold for what it is worth.

Looks like Hughenden Parish Council is not complying with the law again

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22 May 2020

Hughenden Parish Council (HPC) has just given public notice of vacancies on the Council.

I don’t think those notices comply with the law; I think HPC once again is at risk of co-opting councillors unlawfully (see blog of 24 January 2020 below).

I have written to HPC with my concerns but I have had no response. The Full Council met on 12 May but did not mention my concerns, let alone address them. It decided to go ahead with the posting of the notices. Par for the course.

So I wrote to the monitoring officer at Bucks Council. The Deputy Monitoring Officer, Mrs Caprio, responded very promptly to my e-mails. She has agreed with part of my concerns but concluded that the public notices do comply with the law.

So I am going to set out why I think HPC is not complying with the law, why Mrs Caprio thinks it is complying with the law and why I think she is wrong. You can come to your own conclusions.

You might think it doesn’t matter anyway – HPC only has a budget of £250 k which is peanuts compared with BC’s £1 billion annual budget. And there is less than a year to run until the elections in May 2021.

So I am also going to set out some of the implications if I am right and HPC is not complying with the law. And suggest another option which would be lawful.

Why I think the notices are unlawful

In January this year, the Clerk of HPC wrote to seven of its councillors to tell them that they had been co-opted unlawfully and were no longer councillors. This reduced the number of its councillors to five so it is only just quorate.

Because of the coronavirus crisis, parish elections have been delayed until May 2021. This means those five councillors have to attend every meeting of the Council over the next year otherwise the meetings are not quorate and Council decisions cannot be made.

Moreover, all five councillors have to remain as councillors otherwise the Council itself becomes inquorate. In this case, Bucks Council would have to step in and under Section 91 of the Local Government Act appoint additional councillors.

So at this time, the Council is not representative of the residents, with some wards having no representation. And all the work of the Council falls on the remaining five councillors with the risk that at any time the Council could become inquorate.

So understandably, the Council would like to fill some of its 10 vacancies and it decided to issue public notices to start the process.

However, Section 87(2) of the Local Government Act 1972 requires councils to give public notice immediately after the declaration of a vacancy or “as soon as practicable” after the date on which the vacancy was deemed to have occurred.

Initially, I understand the Council deemed the date of seven of the vacancies to be in January when seven of the “councillors” were stood down.

However, I believe these “councillors” were never councillors; their co-option was unlawful so they never filled the vacancies. That means that all 10 of the vacancies on HPC have been vacant for at least a year and some have been vacant for over three years.

Mrs Caprio agrees with this and I understand that HPC now agrees with this too.

I don’t think anyone is arguing that the public notices have gone out “immediately” after the vacancies were declared. The question is whether the notices which HPC is posting now in May 2020 give public notice as “soon as practicable” for vacancies which are at least a year old and some over three years old.

I can see that there might be circumstances where it is impracticable for a parish council to give public notice. Perhaps the Clerk is on holiday or ill. Perhaps a councillor becomes ineligible and the Council is not informed. Perhaps the Council’s computer system crashes.

But it seemed to me that it was entirely practicable for HPC to have given public notice of its vacancies over the past three years; there seemed no insurmountable problem which stopped the Council from doing so for over a year and sometimes over three years.

So I believe that HPC hasn’t complied with Section 87 (2) at all. In effect, the filling of HPC’s vacancies under the Act cannot now be done lawfully; it is too late by a long way.

Ms Caprio disagreed with this. She said “the soonest it was practicable [for HPC] to give notice of the vacancies was January 2020, the point at which it became clear that there had been a misunderstanding of the legal position".

What Mrs Caprio is saying in effect is that it was impracticable for HPC to give public notice before January 2020 because the Council misunderstood the law for over three years.

I’ll put to one side the thought that ignorance of the law – or misunderstanding of the law – is not generally seen as a legitimate reason for breaking the law, particularly if the ignorance continues for such a long time.

What I contend is that it was entirely practicable for the Council to have understood the law on this issue at any time during that three years. All the councillors or the Clerk had to do was read HPC’s own procedures. HPC’s procedures for filling vacancies complied with the law, were short and clear and were on HPC’s website.

If HPC had followed its own procedures, it would have been practicable for HPC to have given notice months, if not years, ago. HPC failed to give notice because it failed to follow its own procedures. That’s not misunderstanding of the law; that’s negligence.

Moreover, HPC was alerted to its failure to give notice by a number of people, including the Deputy Clerk, a councillor and myself, at least six months ago. Our concerns were all ignored. If those concerns had been addressed seriously, HPC should have realized by November last year at the very latest that it was not complying with the law and should have given notice. That’s not a simple matter of misunderstanding the law; that’s bad governance.

I put these points to Mrs Caprio. She still believes the process HPC is following is lawful. I don’t agree.

You can decide for yourself.

Does it matter?

There’s about 130 parish councils in Bucks. Between them they probably spend about £30-40 million a year. Not a lot in the scheme of things but significant. But they are responsible for things which often matter to residents.

From what I have heard, their governance is, to say the least, highly variable. But few, if any, have got themselves into the mess that HPC has done.

Parish councils are a law unto themselves. They are not covered by the Local Government Ombudsman, they can more or less set their own precept and they are accountable to no-one except the electorate once every 4 years (and in the current case once every six years). The only thing that constrains them is the law.

So it is disappointing to see such a disregard for the law by both HPC and the Deputy Monitoring Officer (and her colleagues if she has consulted them).

The message is clearly that expediency comes first. If you get in a mess, it’s OK to dig yourself out by unlawful means.

There is little residents can do. There is no penalty for HPC if I am right and it is breaking the law again. No-one would be mad enough to take HPC to court and ask for a judicial review. It would cost tens of thousands of pounds and take ages.

Candidates for co-option will probably still come forward. After all, the monitoring officer provides reassurance. (Though you never know, the added risk of being on the Council unlawfully might attract a whole new tranche of residents eager for the excitement. Or not. More likely, the same faces will re-emerge).

I will not be applying for co-option. I can’t apply when I think the process unlawful. I am sure current councillors will be much relieved.

But there will remain a question about the lawfulness of the process and therefore a question mark over the validity of all the decisions taken by HPC over the coming year if it makes co-options.

Those decisions include deciding on comments about planning applications. HPC is a statutory consultee on planning and there are some major developments coming up which will affect residents. Developers will certainly have the resources to question the validity of HPC’s comments.

HPC decisions will also include the appointment of a new Clerk. I’m not sure I would be too keen if I was an applicant to have the terms and conditions of my appointment in question, let alone the appointment itself.

And this is not to mention all the contracts, leases and other legal agreements which HPC decides during the year. A question mark over all of them if the co-option of councillors is indeed unlawful.

An alternative.

Why doesn’t one of the existing HPC councillors resign? That would leave Bucks Council able to appoint 11 new councillors to take up the strain. It is probably as democratic for the elected county council to appoint councillors as it would be for the parish council to co-opt. The procedures are there to do this and after all there would be 11 vacancies – plenty of room for a diverse mix.

Hughenden Parish Council negligent in giving away valuable land assets

Follow me @Linda Derrick1

10 May 2020

I’ve been blogging about the activities of Hughenden Parish Council (HPC) for over three years now and likened it on occasions to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party (see blog of January 2017 below).

Well the Tea Party continues on Tuesday when the Council will decide whether to lease land from a charity, having given the land away to the charity without knowing it had done so – and all without taking proper legal advice. Moreover, the land is probably still registered to HPC on the Land Registry so HPC will be leasing land that it apparently still owns. On top of that, the Council may have broken the law (again).

It might be funny if it wasn’t for the fact that this negligence is costing taxpayers tens of thousands of pounds and probably more in the future.

The Council, now reduced to five people, seems determined to go ahead. My email to the Clerk setting out my concerns is below. You are welcome to come to your own conclusions.

“Thank you for forwarding the papers for the Full Council meeting of Hughenden Parish Council on Tuesday. Thank you too for letting me know that the Chairman has proposed a resolution for the Council to approve the signing of the leases with Hughenden Community Support Trust (HCST) for four allotments and some other land in Hughenden.

I was concerned to see this resolution for a number of reasons.

First, the Council is not representative of the residents. There are only five councillors, and none from Widmer End. Notwithstanding Zoom, it is difficult for residents to know what is proposed and to get involved. It would be far better in making a decision on such valuable assets to wait until the Council is back to strength and can meet under more normal conditions.

After all, this issue has been on HPC’s agenda for more than 25 years, and so another delay will hardly make any difference.

Second, it seems clear by now that the Council has been negligent in not taking proper legal advice on the ownership of the land in question before taking decisions to transfer the land to HCST.

The Chairman’s note is misleading on this point. As he says, the Council did take legal advice from Queen’s Counsel in 2014. However, the Council did not ask for legal advice on the ownership of the land in dispute; it asked Counsel whether HPC was required to pay compensation for land it sold on Brimmers Hill.

Indeed, the instructions to Counsel, prepared by Peter Wetherman, the then Clerk of HPC, on 4 March 2014 explicitly stated that “HPC do not perceive the land ownership issues … as being particularly an issue and would readily agree to the vesting of legal title in the name of AfLP”. So Counsel was not asked for advice on the ownership of the land.

I should in passing point out that this statement was inaccurate. Council had not discussed the transfer, let alone agreed to the vesting of the legal title, and there were councillors, including myself, who certainly did not “readily agree to the vesting of the legal title”. The inaccurate statement was not picked up as the instructions were never circulated to councillors, let alone approved by them.

The problems were compounded because the legal advice itself was not circulated to councillors and in particular it was not circulated to councillors before the meeting in June 2014 when the issue was first discussed and the decision taken to transfer the land.

I have asked for a copy of this legal advice and the Council has declined to provide it. My memory of the advice is that it, understandably, did not give any significant advice on the ownership of the land.

Nor did the Council take legal advice on the ownership of the land when it approved the Scheme put to it in 2015 by the Charity Commission. In fact, the Council explicitly decided not to take legal advice.

The Scheme was made by Order on 7 October 2015, setting up HCST and saying it was transferring the land to the Official Custodian for Charities in trust for HCST. Or rather I am told it was made. I can’t now find any reference to it on the Charity Commission’s website. Do you have a link? Or the final authenticated copy?

It is worth noting that, because it did not take legal advice, the Council did not even realise the land had been transferred. It was still saying in January 2016 for example that the land “was to be returned to the Trust”.

In October 2016, Council again decided not to seek legal advice on ownership, this time in response to a case requesting HCST be removed from the Register of Charities. It decided not to take legal advice because “the Council has always and quite rightly followed the guidance and direction of the [Charity] Commission in respect of the steps the Council has been obliged to follow …”

The Council did not recognise that it was under no obligation to follow the guidance and direction of the Commission. On the contrary, the Council has a responsibility to represent its residents and work on their behalf, including managing its assets on the residents’ behalf. The Charity Commission has no authority over a local authority and cannot give a parish council directions.

The Chairman’s note also refers to a “conclusion of the judge from the Higher Tier Tribunal” in December 2018 about the ownership of the land. However, the Tribunal merely decided that the Charity Commission was right to retain HCST on its register and the Commission had the power to make the Scheme.

I don’t believe it is within the jurisdiction of the Charity Commission, the First Tier Tribunal or the Upper Tribunal to make a decision as to who is the owner of a piece of land. This can only be done by one of the higher courts - the High Court, Court of Appeal or Supreme Court. If the judge came to this conclusion, then she should not have done.

As you know, I have been pressing HPC on the lack of legal advice on the ownership of the land for a number of years. The response from your predecessor was to threaten me with legal proceedings, a threat supported by Council.

But I didn’t give up. At the Council’s February meeting this year, after giving advance warning, I asked who, in the considered opinion of Hughenden Parish Council, owned the land on 6 October 2015 i.e. the day before the Scheme was made.

The Chairman said Council wasn’t absolutely sure. This was not surprising in view of the lack of legal advice. But it was shocking to have confirmation that Council agreed to give away valuable parish assets and incur taxpayer expenditure without being sure who the assets belonged to.

At Council’s request, you have been seeking advice on my question. And I would like to place on record my appreciation of the professional and open way you have gone about this.

You first sought legal advice from a solicitor’s firm called BP Collins. To paraphrase, they said they hadn’t been asked before and it would take considerable work reviewing the original trust deeds etc. However, they said, hadn’t HPC already got advice on this question?

You then sought legal advice from Wellers Hedleys, at no cost. You will know I found their advice confusing to say the least and some of it was simply inaccurate, for example quoting a section of an Act which didn’t exist and referring to a Tribunal which has nothing to do with the case.

However, the gist of their advice is that it is too late now; the Council agreed to transfer the title to the land, the Scheme is made and whoever actually owned the land before the Scheme was made is irrelevant. Again the Chairman’s advice here might be misleading; Wellers Hedleys are indeed unequivocal that the land belongs to HCST now but only because HPC agreed to transfer the land.

I do not accept Weller Hedleys’ advice; it is not irrelevant knowing who owned the land before the Council agreed to transfer it to HCST. To begin with, taxpayers are entitled to know if their councillors gave away valuable parish assets for no reason. And secondly, if the land was owned by the Council, then the Council should have complied with the law in disposing of the land, including getting the best possible value. If the land did belong to the Council on 6 October 2015, then I believe the Council has broken the law in disposing of the land.

It is also worth noting that the Council has consistently ignored the financial consequences to taxpayers of agreeing to transfer the land. In the event of legal transfer, under whatever terms agreed, HCST trustees are under an obligation to dispose of this land at market value and apply the proceeds to the objectives of HCST i.e. the relief of poverty in Hughenden. If approved for development, this land is a very valuable asset.

The Charity Commission has already made this clear in writing to HCST that this is what the trustees should do and the trustees will have to abide by the Commission’s rulings.

When they do so, the Council may have to find alternative allotment sites at market value from the public purse. In the meantime, the Council has expended tens of thousands of pounds on the legal costs of taking the transfer forward – both the Council’s own costs and those of HCST. And yet they haven’t expended a penny on getting legal advice on ownership. I

t is a great pity that HPC did not take legal advice on the ownership of the land before it made decisions. As I said, I think the Council was negligent. But it could still seek and obtain proper legal advice on ownership and I believe it should do so, and certainly before it enters into 99 year leases. 

Looking to the immediate future, it would be helpful to know if the land is still registered with HPC on the Land Registry.

If the title has been transferred to the Official Custodian, when was that done and by what means? I have doubts that the Order made in 2015 is in fact a valid deed of transfer (not least because it is silent on who the transfer is from).

If the title hasn’t been transferred, I have to ask how it is possible for HPC to sign leases for land which is registered with itself. I understand that registration is proof of ownership. So would such leases be lawful?

I also have to ask you, in your role of accountable officer, whether you can make payments to HCST for rent for land which is registered to HPC?”

The unlawful obstructions of rights of way around Grange Farm

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18 April 2020

Many residents of Hazlemere and Widmer End will know that the rights of way around Grange Farm have been obstructed for a couple of weeks (see photo). These obstructions are unlawful. This blog is to inform residents about developments.

The issue is set out in the e-mail below which I sent to the Chief Executive of Buckinghamshire Council on Thursday. I think it is self explanatory. I will blog any response that I get.

My e-mail is supported by two local councillors - Councillors McCarthy and Gaffney. My thanks to them. Thanks also to the Clerk of Hughenden Parish Council who has been very active in pursuing this on behalf of residents.

Widmer End Residents Association, of which I am a committee member, has declined to take any action about the unlawful obstructions. Ian Guy, the Secretary of WERA, said this was because, if he wrote on behalf of WERA, " I risk stirring up a flurry of useless and possibly acrimonious emails which will not help in any way to resolve the situation. I prefer a quiet life".

This view was supported by Marianne Tyler, the Deputy Chairman. She added that "Those WERA members who aren’t in the high risk category are very much involved in assisting our vulnerable residents so it would be an unnecessary waste of our time to be caught up with this."

 

"Dear Ms Shimmin​

1. I am writing to you about an issue that involves BC's responsibilities for land management and for the enforcement of rights of way legislation. With the change to a unitary structure, it is difficult to identify senior managers now responsible for these issues but as Chief Executive you must be responsible. I am copying to others in BC who I think may have responsibilities and duties in this area. ​

Summary

2. The issues centre round obstructions to public rights of way near Grange Farm in Widmer End. The land around Grange Farm was formerly owned by WDC and is now owned by BC. The rights of way have been obstructed by Mr Andrew James whose company, Manor Estates, leases land adjacent to the rights of way. BC officers have acknowledged that the obstructions are unlawful and that Mr James is breaching his leases with BC. Nevertheless BC officers have decided not to take any action to get the obstructions removed. ​

Coronavirus

3. I am well aware that in the current crisis the issues I am raising are not the highest priority. Nevertheless, the obstructions on these rights of way are causing resentment, inconvenience and anger amongst residents. These public rights of way are well used by residents of Hughenden and Hazlemere, and increasingly so as residents use the land for exercise during the lockdown. ​

4. There have been altercations between walkers and Mr James since he took up the lease in 2016 and these have flared up again in the past few weeks. Mr James has been threatening and abusive to local residents. ​

5. I am therefore copying this e-mail to the police inspector in TVP who I believe is responsible for community policing. He will be aware of previous issues at Grange Farm. He will understand that the vast majority of residents are complying with the law and the government's guidance on staying at home. We are now in our 4th week of lockdown and there is no end in sight. In enforcing the legislation, the police will continue to depend on the public's co-operation, tolerance and patience. The police have to enforce by consent. ​

6. So it is therefore particularly important that action is taken when a small minority, like Mr James, take advantage of the situation and flagrantly flout the law. It is these seeming small things that can trigger difficult and anti-social behaviour which is on the increase. ​

The Background.

7. Manor Estates has two leases with BC. One is for the farmhouse, where Mr James and his family live, and the farmyard from which he runs a garden maintenance business. The annual rent under the lease for this property is £34,000. The other lease is for some fields adjoining the farmyard. The annual rent under the lease for this property is £1000. Mr James keeps pigs in these fields. He also keeps some poultry and a few goats. I understand he also sells produce to the public from the farm. ​

8. There have been a number of problems about activities at Grange Farm, including fires which spread black smoke over the area. This is in breach of Manor Estates' leases. Residents have complained and I understand Mr James has been formally warned by officers on a number of occasions. There was another fire at the farm yesterday morning. ​

10. The obstructions are to a bridleway and footpath ((HAZ/4/1 and HAZ/5/1 respectively). Mr James has put up signs to divert walkers and horse riders into adjacent fields leased by another tenant farmer. Those fields are sown with crops. ​

11. Residents have complained to Hughenden Parish Council and the Clerk has made representations to Sophie David, the rights of way officer. She contacted Mr James who admitted he has obstructed the rights of way and put up the signs. According to Ms David, Mr James said the obstructions were necessary to protect his farm and livestock during the Covid-19 pandemic.​

12. Ms David then asked Mr James to remove the obstructions as soon as possible. Ms David's colleague has written to Mr James to inform him that the obstructions are a breach of his tenancy. ​

13. Mr James responded with a telephone call. Ms David said she "got the impression he would be leaving the diversions in place temporarily during the Covid-19 pandemic as he feels this is necessary for the safety of his farm and family as well as being the safest option for the public". ​

14. When pressed by the Clerk, Ms David said BC would not be able to issue an enforcement notice. This appears to be because site inspections would be very difficult under current conditions and because it would require the police to attend the site when the obstructions were removed and this was unlikely to be supported by the police at this time. ​

Observations​

15. I understand that: - ​

- In its role of land owner and land manager, BC has a duty to maintain the rights of way on the land it owns and manages. BC has not, as far as I am aware, leased the land on which these rights of way run. BC is therefore responsible for keeping the rights of way open as the land manager.​

- In its role of enforcer, BC has a statutory duty under Section 130 of the Highways Act 1980 to assert and protect the rights of the public to the use and enjoyment of the rights of way. ​

- BC also has a statutory duty under130(6) to take proper proceedings if a parish council makes representations, as Hughenden Parish Council has done. ​

- BC has a conflict of interest in enforcing the law against itself. ​

16. So it appears that BC is in breach of the law both as a land owner and law enforcer and is putting its interests as a land owner before the interests of the public.

17. As far as the reasons Mr James has given for obstructing the rights of way:- ​

- He could close the double gate to his farm, which is left permanently open, and secure the property to protect his farm. This would be a sensible and lawful alternative to obstructing the rights of way.​

- His family is no more at risk from walkers on the rights of way than the vast majority of residents are at risk from walkers on pavements going past their homes. ​

- Although Mr James has blocked access to the rights of way to the public, there is a continuing stream of traffic going to the farm, including people from other companies. Mr James is also continuing to supply produce to the public. It is therefore difficult to see why walkers on the rights of way adjacent to the farm are a risk to the farm and family and yet a range of people are allowed access to the farm itself. ​

- I am unaware that coronavirus is a danger to pigs, poultry or goats. It would be helpful to know what evidence Mr James provided to support this contention. I am also unaware that this livestock can pass coronavirus to humans. ​

- In any case, the poultry, goats and pigs can be kept well away from the rights of way.

- This pandemic could last for months, perhaps years, so the obstructions could remain in place indefinitely.​

18. It therefore appears that Mr James hasn't taken any steps to secure his property. He has no grounds for unlawfully obstructing the rights of way. Allowing Mr James to continue to obstruct the rights of way sets a very unhelpful precedent. It would encourage other companies to flaunt the law and obstruct rights of way without reasonable cause, even on land they do not own or lease.

19. As far as BC taking further action:- ​

- If as seems apparent, BC cannot persuade Mr James to remove the obstructions, it is BC's legal duty to remove the obstructions itself. It is, after all, BC's land. ​

- There is no need for the public rights officer to carry out a site inspection. Officers are familiar with the land and with Mr James. Residents and local councillors can provide descriptions and photos of the obstructions. I am happy to so myself. ​

- If BC believes it needs police involvement to carry out this work on its own land, then it says much about the behaviour it expects from Mr James. However, it is open to BC to ask for police support and it would then be for the police to decide whether to provide that support. ​

20. So it would be reasonable and possible for BC to get the obstructions removed. ​

Next Steps

21. I and other residents would be grateful if BC could remove the obstructions or get Mr James to do it. ​

22. I will be putting this e-mail on my blogsite at the weekend to inform residents and the press about the unlawful obstructions. I will include any response I get from BC. It would be great if BC could confirm urgently that the rights of way will be restored.​

23. Failing that, I assume it is open to the public to remove the signs which Mr James has put up which are in effect directing the public to trespass on his neighbour's land and open to the public to remove the obstructions put up unlawfully by Mr James. Perhaps BC and the police could comment on this course of action.​

24. I am copying to BC councillors who used to cover Hughenden and Hazlemere before unification. They are already be aware of the problem.​

Kind Regards​

Linda Derrick" ​

The development at Terriers - what's happening?

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20 February 2020

In January, the developers who plan to build on the land at Terriers arranged a Public Exhibition to explain their plans. The Exhibition was poorly advertised and residents have been asking me what is happening with this development; it is going to affect thousands of residents in Terriers, Hazlemere and Greater Hughenden (to name just a few).

I think the best way to inform residents what is happening is to reproduce here a letter which Widmer End Residents' Association has sent to the developers. It is long but the development is important - and I don't think any other organisation or individual has commented on the proposals so comprehensively. (I need to declare my interest in that I am a committee member of WERA).

The letter is not on WERA's website yet - when it is I will provide the link.

If residents agree with what WERA says, all they need to do is write in support of WERA's comments to the developers (email address below) and copy to their district councillors.

S.brown@woolfbond.co.uk​​

Dear Mr Brown, ​ ​

Feedback on Public Exhibition on development at Terriers ​​

I am writing on behalf of Widmer End Residents' Association (WERA) to provide feedback to Persimmon Homes Ltd and Redrow Homes Ltd about their proposals to develop the reserve site at Terriers. Residents were invited to provide feedback at the Public Exhibition on 15 January 2020 at Hazlemere Memorial Hall. The ward of Widmer End and Four Ashes borders the north of the development along Ladies' Mile. ​ ​​

General ​​

WERA has been commenting on the proposals for development on the land at Terriers for a number of years and much of what we have said over the years is still relevant and bears repeating. ​​

We reluctantly accepted the need for substantial housing at Terriers Farm. However, we strongly believed, and still do, that the development should be a high quality, sustainable community development, not a faceless housing estate. It should have the necessary physical and social infrastructure to give it its own identity rather than putting pressure on existing communities. And the development should protect the precious surrounding countryside and provide good quality design and construction.

We were concerned about the impact on our villages when the site was originally scheduled for about 360 dwellings and were disappointed when the planning inspector increased the capacity to about 450/500. We know that the developers asked for an increase to at least 700 dwellings and we would oppose any increase on the number approved in the local plan. ​ ​​

A development of such magnitude is virtually a new village in its own right and demands some sort of centre to give it focus. This centre should include some basic features that would enable residents to satisfy some of their everyday needs without having to travel away from the site. ​​ ​

We would also point out that there has already been substantial development around the junction of the A404 and Kingshill Road, with about 235 homes on the Wellesbourne development and about 200 homes off Totteridge Lane. As far as we are aware, no facilities were provided for either of these developments under the planning process; all that was built were residential homes. ​There are also plans for very substantial development on Hoppers farm and other sites, all of which access the A404.​

​In total, about 1000–1200 new homes are planned or have been built around this area with virtually no improvements to the infrastructure. ​​

​In the light of this substantial increase in new homes, we would strongly recommend that Terriers Farm should contain a 'village centre' incorporating a bus stop, a primary school, a health centre, possibly a meeting hall and at least one shop. The rationale behind these requests will, we hope, become apparent in the paragraphs below. ​​

Liaison ​​

We were disappointed that the developers did not engage with the liaison group convened by the planning department of Wycombe District Council (WDC). WERA was represented on the liason group and we think much useful work was done. However, we do not have much confidence that the developers will take residents' ideas and concerns into account in the future as they have done little to liase with residents in the past. ​​

We were also very disappointed with the Public Exhibition set up by the developers. It was poorly advertised and poorly signposted. It totally lacked any substantive information, and representatives of the developers were unfamiliar with the area and unable to answer pertinent questions. ​

We would like to see evidence of where the developers have considered residents’ ideas and concerns. However, we have to say that, so far, the developers have done everything to confirm their reputation for putting profits before good design and construction. We would urge the developers to listen to residents and address their concerns. ​​

In the following paragraphs we ​outline our concerns in more detail.​​

 

Transport. ​​ The Terriers Farm development will bring about 1000 new residents into the area, on top of the 2500–3000 residents from previous recent developments. Most of the journeys made by the residents will be by private car. ​​ ​

We note that previous proposals suggest “implementing traffic calming measures on North Road and Brimmers Hill through Widmer End to limit the potential for additional traffic rat running through this area”. These roads already carry a flow of some 8000 vehicles a day on a normal weekday in school term time and the development at Terriers will substantially increase the flow. We do not think further traffic calming measures would have any effect other than increasing congestion and spawning further rat runs elsewhere, and in any case the highways authority have failed to mitigate the impact of other nearby developments despite much local effort and S106 funding.​ ​

For example, our experience of using S106 money from the Wellesbourne site, now known as Kingshill Grange, is that much of it was wasted due to the rigid requirements of Bucks County Council; many of the planned mitigation measures did not materialise as too much money had to be spent on feasibility studies, leaving insufficient funds to carry out the actual mitigation measures. ​

We fully expect to receive funding from the development for traffic calming measures through the village and hope that the funding can be used more flexibly and effectively. However, what is needed is a reduction in the traffic rather than traffic calming measures. ​​ Much of the additional traffic on these roads will be school trips to Widmer End, Great Kingshill and Cedar Park schools, or to our local shops or overloaded doctor's surgery. One of the answers to the traffic problem is therefore to provide communal facilities on the Terriers site and reduce the need for such trips. ​

Another answer to the traffic problem is the provision of good bus sevices for this and other nearby developments. This should include at least one bus stop in the development itself.​​ Similarly, we would also wish to see the provision of cycle routes particularly from the development to local schools. This would be fully in line with the Government's commitment to fund more bus services and cycle routes.

We would like to see improved pedestrian facilities in the area surrounding Terriers Farm, particularly the provision of a continuous path for pedestrians and cyclists through the site, linking Ladies' Mile with Benjamin's Footpath and therefore providing an alternative route between Hazlemere and High Wycombe. ​However, this needs to be carried out sensitively, with respect for the character of the existing footpaths and bridleways which are a precious part of the rural nature of the countryside rather than just a means of travel. Ladies' Mile borders the AONB and is a historic drovers' trail and a biologically notifiable site. There is a danger that upgrading this path and providing some insensitive 'improvements' would semi-urbanise this area and erode the green belt that currently exists between High Wycombe and Hazlemere. ​​ ​

Education​​ We are very concerned about inadequate provision of additional primary school places on or very near to the Terriers proposed development. We believe that primary school children should be able to walk to a nearby school rather than be ferried, either by school bus or by private car, to a more distant school. We therefore recommend the provision of a new primary school at Terriers Farm. ​​

Attending ​Highworth or Hazlemere Holy Trinity schools, the nearest local primary schools, would mean crossing an extremely busy road for children living on the Terriers development. We are not clear whether Highworth School is unwilling to expand or whether it applied to expand and its application was turned down by Bucks County Council, which apparently believed that there were adequate school places already. This needs clarification, particularly in the light of the increase in the number of homes proposed for Terriers Farm. ​​

Providing a school within Terriers Farm would encourage both parents and children to see education as an aspect of their own community and foster a sense of belonging to their 'village'. ​​ ​

As regards secondary education, we have yet to see an analysis of the need for extra secondary school places arising from the development and where those places will be found. ​​

Health​​

Building on the reserve sites will increase pressure on doctors' surgeries and health centres throughout the town. The Highfield Surgery at Hazlemere Crossroads is within reasonable walking distance of the Terriers site for a fit person, but many of those who need to visit a doctor or report to a clinic are far from fit and may not have their own means of transport. However all the nearby surgeries are seriously overloaded and are probably unable to take further patients. ​​

We believe that the Terriers Farm development will be sufficiently large, especially when the impact of the other nearby developments is taken into account, to justify the provision of a health centre, complete with full-time staff and a pharmacy, which will itself contribute to the sense of community we hope to see established on the site. ​​ ​

We have already mentioned the increase in traffic coming through Widmer End, particularly since the Wellesbourne site was developed, and that can only get worse with the Terriers development. More traffic means more air pollution and much of this traffic goes past out local primary school. As we say, the answer is local infrastructure and services, good bus services and therefore less traffic. ​​ ​

Outdoor sports and leisure ​​

The Terriers Farm site is next to the Chilterns AONB to the north and Hazlemere recreation ground to the east. We remain concerned that providing better recreation facilities should not be at the expense of protecting and enhancing the natural countryside; for example, the football pitches should not be floodlit. Any new development must be planned so as not to impact either visually or environmentally on the surrounding environment. Adequate parking and pedestrian access is also critical.​ ​​

We understand that there have been proposals since the plan was published for residents of Terriers Farm to use the charitable sports and leisure facilities in Widmer End. We would be grateful for sight of any such proposals but we would say now that we strongly believe that the Terriers development should have its own facilities, not only to avoid even more traffic but also to promote its own identity, rather than rely on those provided by neighbouring communities for their own residents.​

Shopping​​

There seems to be little consideration of where residents are expected to do their local shopping apart from a few small shops in Amersham Road. There are no other shopping facilities for residents to use within walking distance. We believe that the thousand or more expected residents of Terriers Farm will be enough to profitably support a 'village shop' that will supply a good proportion of their everyday needs and, hopefully, will also include a Post Office. This shop should be situated at a central point in the village and emphasise the communal nature of the development. ​​ ​

Community facilities. ​​

We believe the development should have its own meeting hall, providing it with its own sense of community identity. ​​ ​

Environment ​​

You are aware that the Terriers site is adjacent to Green Belt and AONB land, two conservation areas, ancient woodland and many listed buildings. It must therefore be developed in a way which is sensitive to the environment. ​​

We were therefore very concerned to see such little information at the Exhibition about the impact of the development on the AONB and what the developers proposed in mitigation. We could see no sign on the plans, for example, of a substantial buffer between the houses and the AONB, or for the retention of existing hedges and trees or for any planting or other environmental or conservation measures. We could see no sign on the plans of compliance with local environmental policies, and no recognition of the Government's desire for high quality green infrastructure and air quality mitigation.​ ​

We are disappointed that the exit to the A404 is via an area which is currently wooded and many of the trees, some with a preservation order, will need to be cut down. ​We would expect substantial planting mitigation to offset the loss of TPO’d trees caused by access to the site. ​ ​​

Flooding/drainage ​​

We remain concerned about the potential for flooding on this site. The whole area of land going north to Grange Farm, Cedar Avenue and Park Parade is currently prone to flooding which will be exacerbated by the proposed dwellings and any removal of trees and other mature vegetation. We understand DERA has also expressed concern about the flood plain and the mitigation requirements.​​ ​

Parking​

We have seen at Wellesbourne what happens when the amount of parking is reduced below the national standard. Parked cars and lorries overspill onto adjoining roads and pavements, causing congestion and risks to motorists and pedestrians.

We were told at the Public Exhibition that the parking provision at Terriers would comply with newer increased requirements (1 space for 1 & 2 bed properties, 1.5 spaces for a 3 bed and 2 spaces for a 4 bed property). We were also told that disabled parking and access had been factored in. We are pleased to hear this is the case and hope that it remains in the final plans. ​​ ​​

Construction programme. ​

We have no information as to the build out programme, construction nuisance mitigation, noise and pollution control on this most sensitive of sites.​ ​

Conclusion​​

We strongly believe that Terriers Farm should not be developed as a faceless housing estate but should instead have a personality of its own, which will be enhanced by the provision of a community centre. We regard a bus stop, a health centre, a primary school and a small shop as essential requirements for this development to take its rightful place as a viable and vibrant extension to the town of High Wycombe. ​​

Indeed it offers Persimmon and Redrow the opportunity to enhance their present reputations and produce an exemplary development.​

I am copying this letter to Charles Power at WDC Planning Department, our parish, district and county councillors in Greater Hughenden, district councillors in other wards affected and interested residents. ​

Yours sincerely, ​​

Ian N. Guy, Hon. Secretary, Widmer End Residents' Association​​

HUGHENDEN PARISH COUNCIL HAS BEEN BREAKING THE LAW SINCE 2016

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24 January 2020

The blog below (19 December 2019) sets out the concerns I put to Hughenden Parish Council over many months about its co-option process. HPC has now acknowledged that its process was unlawful and that 8 coucillors were co-opted onto the Council unlawfully.

I am still waiitng for the Council to send me a substantive response to my concerns.

In the meantime, this is what I think the Chairman would have written - if he had had the time. 

"Dear Linda

It's been four months since you applied to be co-opted onto Hughenden Parish Council. And what a time we have had since!

In October, we rejected you and, despite you asking very politely, I couldn't explain why. Looking back, I still can't understand why we turned you down. But there, we all do things we can't explain, don't we?

Perhaps we should have thought about the consequences of turning you down. One of our colleagues did warn us. So perhaps it shouldn't have come as a complete surprise when you looked at the way we had run the co-option process and suggested it was unlawful.

However, I must say, that at the time, I thought that suggestion was a bit tiresome - rejected candidates aren't meant to question the legality of their rejection; they are meant to feel bad and just go away. So I think we weren't totally unreasonable when we ignored what you were saying.

But blow me down, what did you do then but use the Freedom of Information Act to find out more about our co-option process and prove that we had not complied with the law. In fact, you showed that we had been breaking the law for over 3 years. We didn't think this was quite fair - fancy using the FoI Act in this sneaky way. We were really upset to find out about this from our Clerk just before Christmas.

But hey. We still thought you might go away if we carried on ignoring you. And we wanted to have a good holiday. We know you'd made a formal complaint against HPC by this time but, to be honest, we really didn't want to discuss it with you. After all, we might have had to admit you were right. And we might have had to actually do something.

But you then wrote to WDC's Monitoring Officer and put the e-mail on your blogsite. That we thought was really beyond the pale. Not the sort of thing we are used to.

Then in the New Year, our Clerk told us the bad news. In the light of legal advice, it turned out the co-option process was unlawful. This meant that 6 of us, who thought we were HPC councillors, were not councillors - indeed had never been councillors - and had their names deleted from the website at 24 hours notice. I can tell you, this didn't go down well.

Moreover it meant that there were only 5 of us left (luckily that included me) and we only just had a quorum. So we had to ask WDC for some sort of Order to appoint more councillors in case one of couldn't make a Council meeting. Somehow the Secretary of State had to get involved and WDC didn't seem to be in a hurry to get back to us on that.

That was bad enough but our Clerk also confirmed that all the decisions the Council had made over the past three years were null and void. I know - you did warn us. But it was a bit of a downer all the same.

I have to admit that throughout this kerfuffle we neglected to keep you informed. Never mind, you managed to get to a Council meeting and listen to our deliberations - the opportunity of a lifetime if I might say so.

You also got a copy of our Press Release just like everyone else at the Council meeting. You were kind enough to welcome our Release (although I didn't twig at the time that you said you still had concerns and hoped to discuss these with councillors).

Moreover, we did get round to discussing your complaint at the Council meeting. Perhaps it wasn't quite good practice to do so in public, without giving you the opportunity to have your say, without notice to you and in breach of the Council's procedures. I just didn't think. Ah well, my bad.

Nevertheless I thought that would be the end of it and we could get on and pretend nothing had happened. After all, we only have to survive for another 3 months and then we will be saved by the parish elections.

So it was a bit much to find out you wanted a meeting with councillors. You were just a tad persistant on this, weren't you? No matter, we managed to get together in the end.

Actually you were really helpful. You seemed to know what you were talking about and had done your homework. It was really quite refreshing.

You pointed out that the Council's quorum was 3 not 5 and we didn't need one of those Orders. Well that was a relief - who knows who WDC might have apppointed. It might not have been - you know - one of us.

You also pointed out that the null and void decisions stretched back further than we thought and included the appointment of our Clerk. So we are going to have to do something about that. We would be lost without her.

You thought we should think again about the way we had re-resolved all these past decisions - you suggested a magic wand wasn't perhaps the answer. But, as you said, that is the Council's responsibility. I'm sure we will be alright.

(Although to be honest, no-one is quite sure what to do. Not many councils have broken the law like we have, leaving us with over 3 years of null and void decisions - in fact we seem to be unique. HPC has such a reputation! Makes me so proud).

I was a bit put out to find you still wanted copies of the anonymous e-mails sent to HPC by 6 residents objecting to your co-option. Beats me why you want to see them - they're not very nice about you you know. And I'm sure councillors didn't believe a word they said. I'm pleased it is all now in the hands of the Information Commissioner and perhaps next month everyone will be able to read them.

I understand these same residents are blaming you for HPC's unlawful actions over the past 3/4 years. Apparently they think it is your fault because you asked so many questions and distracted the Council.

Well if I hear any such thing in public, you have my personal assurance that I will, in a very straight forward way, say absolutely nothing. Can't say fairer than that can you?

I think that's all.

I suppose I ought to thank you for bringing your concerns to the attention of HPC and stopping us breaking the law. But I think I thanked you sometime during our meeting, so that's OK.

And I suppose I ought to apologise for subjecting you to an unlawful process and putting you to so much trouble. But our Press Release apologises to those directly affected and I suppose that includes you. So that's OK too.

There - job done.

Kind Regards

Paul Nichols, Chairman of Hughenden Parish Council

Concerns of illegality and maladministration by Hughenden Parish Council

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19 December 2019

My blog below of 5 November tells the story of my rejection for co- option onto Hughenden Parish Council. This blog picks up the story with an e-mail I wrote to the Monitoring Officer in Wycombe District Council which I think is self -explanatory. Her response is at the end.

The e-mail is long but there is a summary at the beginning. I thought, as I had concerns about illegality and maladministration, it was only right to provide all the references and background so residents can check it out for themselves.

There are still many unresolved questions.

"Dear Ms Khanna

Summary

I am writing to inform you that, in my opinion, HPC has not been complying with the law and its own procedures in filling many of its casual vacancies over the past years, including casual vacancies I applied for in September this year.

I am also seeking remedies for these breaches of the law and HPC’s procedures.

As I am not sure of the respective roles and responsibilities of the Monitoring Officer and the Local Government Ombudsman, I am putting my concerns to both.

You should note that HPC may be one of many parish councils not complying with the law as I believe the breaches are partly due to wrong legal advice from the National Association for Local Councils (NALC).

Background

On 16 September this year, I applied to HPC to become a councillor for Widmer End where I live. Widmer End had no representation on HPC; there were four casual vacancies. The Clerk of HPC advised the Council that I was eligible to be a Councillor. However, at HPC’s Full Council meeting on 8 October, the Council voted not to accept my application.

After the meeting, I asked the Clerk for information including a copy of the procedures which HPC is required to follow when co-opting councillors. She sent me a copy of the legal guidance issued by the National Association of Local Councils (NALC) rather than HPC’s procedures which are on its website.

After the meeting, I also asked the Council repeatedly for an explanation for rejecting my application. However, the Council was unable or unwilling to do so; the Chairman said the Council was not required to provide an explanation…

In the light of this refusal, I looked more closely at the legal basis for filling casual vacancies on Parish Councils. It seemed wrong to me that Parish Councillors could decide, arbitrarily and without explanation, who should be a councillor and represent the electorate.

On 14 November, I wrote to the Clerk starting to voice my concerns that HPC had not complied with the law. I pointed out that according to the Local Government Act 1972, Section 87(2), a public notice has to be given of any casual vacancy on a council in accordance with S232 of the Act. Section 5(2) of the Local Elections (Parishes and Communities) (England and Wales) Rules 2006 then provides for electors to request a bye-election.

Section 5(5) specifies that, only after the electorate has been given the opportunity to request a bye-election, can co-option take place. Section 5(5) puts an absolute duty on the parish council to fill a vacancy as soon as practicable by co-option if a bye-election does not take place.

The Clerk had previously told me that 13 casual vacancies had been filled on Hughenden Parish since the 2015 elections. I believed that HPC had not issued notices for these vacancies. If I was correct, and HPC had not filled the vacancies in compliance with the law, then I suggested that the co-option of these councillors might be invalid and the Council might be inquorate...

The Clerk responded on 12 December, confirming that HPC had not issued notices for any of its co-opted councillors except one.

On 19 November, I made a formal complaint to HPC. I complained, amongst other things, that in rejecting my application for co-option at the October Council meeting, the Council was in breach of the Local Elections (Parishes and Communities) (England and Wales) Rules 2006, paragraph 5 (5).

The Council had not fulfilled its duty to co-opt a person as soon as practicable to the vacancies on the Council which it was required to do if an applicant was eligible. The Council had no right to consider my suitability for co-option and reject my application.

In response, the Clerk said she believed the correct procedures were followed and therefore considered the complaint closed. She asked me to let her know if I considered my complaint had not been answered fully to my satisfaction. She also said I could attend the Full Council meeting on 10 December when I could address Council as it would be an item on the agenda. Council could then decide if they felt it necessary to form a complaints panel to deal with my complaint.

I declined to attend the Full Council meeting; I said either the complaint was closed or it should be handled in line with the formal procedures agreed by the Council. Nowhere in those procedures does it require the complainant to convince the Council at a Full Council meeting that the procedures should be triggered.

In the event, I understand that the Full Council meeting on 10 December did not take place because the meeting was inquorate.

I think the Clerk and I are now agreed that, in the circumstances, the formal complaint process is closed and I can take my case to whoever I think appropriate.

My concerns

I believe that HPC has not complied with the 2006 Rules and the Local Government Act 1972 Section 87 in that:

• It has failed to issue notices advertising casual vacancies and inviting electors to call an election. This includes vacancies I applied for in September; and

• It has failed in its duty to co-opt applicants who are eligible as soon as practicable.  Instead it has decided to vote on what councillors believe to be applicants’ suitability which councillors have no right to do. In my case, it voted to reject my application which I believe breaches the law.

In effect, HPC has usurped the right of electors to decide themselves who should represent them.

HPC’s procedures for filling casual vacancies are {in the link below}. I believe these procedures comply with the law (with the exception of the last sentence which is not an issue here).

If HPC had followed its own procedures, then I think it would have complied with the law. However, HPC hasn’t complied with its own procedures, contrary to what the Clerk says. Instead, on b) above, it has followed the legal advice of NALC which I believe to be wrong.

Remedies

I know that the Clerk has sought your legal advice on next steps forward. It is therefore difficult for me to be specific about what remedies I can realistically seek. However, in general terms I am seeking:

a) An apology from the Council for putting me to all the time and trouble in applying to be a councillor under procedures which did not comply with the law. Also an apology for the damage to my reputation in that the Council decided I was not suitable to be a councillor – a decision the Council had no right to take.

b) An assurance that HPC will operate in future in compliance with the law and that the decisions it takes in future are valid.

I understand HPC’s quorum is five. It would therefore appear the Council might be quorate as there are four councillors – Gould, Nicholls, Kearey and Waterton - who became councillors at the last election and one councillor – Gieler – who might have been co-opted in compliance with the law.

It appears that the co-option of other councillors did not comply with the law and their co-option is therefore invalid. This would mean that decisions could only be taken at Full Council meetings if all five “valid” councillors attend.

c) Swift action to fill the existing vacancies and the positions which fall vacant if the co-option of councillors (other than Councillor Gieler) are invalid. HPC will be very vulnerable if it has to rely on all five councillors above attending its meetings for the next 6 months. This is particularly critical as HPC takes major financial decisions on its budget etc. HPC will also be unrepresentative if it only has five councillors.

d) My co-option to the Council in compliance with the law. If it is not carried out, I have been deprived of my democratic right (with other electors) to call for an election and deprived of the opportunity of serving as a councillor since October this year.

e) An assurance that HPC’s decisions in the past are valid. It appears that all co-options from Councillor Stern’s do not comply with the law and may be invalid. That means that decisions taken by Council since February 2017 have been taken by some councillors whose co-option was not valid. Does that invalidate those decisions?

I am happy to discuss my concerns and the way forward.

http://www.hughendenparishcouncil.org.uk/councillor-vacancies/about-casual-vacancies/"

Response from Kiran Khanna,  Principal Solicitor and Monitoring Officer, WDC 

"Dear Ms Derrick, ………I am unable to deal with complaints against a Parish Council as a whole and this complaint is not within my remit to investigate. ….

I have, however, directed the clerk to the Society of Local Council Clerks who will give her some guidance and advice in respect of the issues you have raised and hopefully, with this guidance these matters can be resolved going forward. The PC may also choose to take their own independent legal advice. I have asked the Clerk to keep me informed." 

My last chapter in the story of Widmer End’s trees – and the future doesn’t look bright

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18 November 2019  (updated 19 December) 

When the Prime Minister visited the floods in Yorkshire last week he said it was important to plant millions of trees. He added “it’s not an immediate solution clearly, but in the long-term we are going to need about the whole way in which we manage our landscape and we manage water in our landscape.…” (Yes, I know the PM made no sense.)

Michael Gove, the Secretary of State for the Environment was later asked why the Government is failing to deliver its 2015 manifesto promise to plant 11 million more trees by next year; the Government has only planted a third of the trees it promised. Mr Gove said in response “And that’s why we need to leave the European Union.” (Yes, I know Mr Gove made no sense.)

Back in Widmer End, the recreation ground is waterlogged and residents have been concerned for years about flooding from the surrounding land. Residents have asked Wycombe District Council (WDC), who own much of the land, to plants more trees.

I have been asking why, instead of planting more trees, 10 mature and healthy trees have been cut down (see blogs of 14 October and 2 August). The short answer is to prevent possible damage to the tennis courts at Widmer End Tennis Club.

I have also asked whether we can expect more trees to go. The short answer is yes.

The tennis courts looking north towards the Village Hall. T= a tree. C= a crack

Here’s the answers – and at least no-one has blamed the EU.

Five of the felled trees were poplars on land leased from WDC by Widmer End Tennis Club in an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

The trees were inspected by an arboricultural officer from WDC in July this year who said the poplars “are not the most ideal species to have so close to the courts. There is some disruption to the surface of the courts in particular the junior court which has significant root have (sic). My view is that these should be removed and treated to prevent root suckers occurring thus causing more and extensive damage. I don’t have any objection to their removal.” He suggested rowan or whitebeam as replacements.

On the basis of this, Widmer End Tennis Club asked WDC officials for permission to cut the poplars down and the officials gave permission. It appears that those officials did not consult local councillors, nor residents, nor Widmer End Residents Association.

No-one appeared to think of balancing the wishes of the Tennis Club with the wishes of local residents.

WDC has a policy of planting three trees for every tree cut down. However, in this case, it appears it didn’t enforce its policy; it seems that only four replacement trees - whitebeams - have been planted. In five or ten years they will be very pretty but in the meantime they will do little to absorb flood water and will never help to screen the tennis courts or club house.

The other five trees were poplars cut down by the Widmer End Village Hall Committee on land it owns alongside land it leases to Widmer End Tennis Club. The Tennis Club asked the VH Committee to cut these and other trees down. In response, the VH Committee commissioned a report from a company called Arbtech. The report cost £695.

The report concluded (see diagram) that the majority of the damage runs along the west side of the courts; a root barrier was probably installed along the north side of the tennis courts where the poplars are. It recommended two options:

- to trench a line along the outer perimeter of the court, severing any roots found, then to excavate to a depth of 1m and install root barriers. This could cause damage to the associated trees, and could kill them. However, the trees might survive and distribute roots elsewhere.

- to remove the trees adjacent to the court and replant elsewhere on the site, out of influencing distance of the court. This would eradicate the risk of further court disruption and the need for regular pruning regimes to keep the crowns from overhanging the court.

It also recommended the removal of the five poplars (T3-T7) planted to cover the floodlights; they were the wrong trees for this location.

The VH Committee went for neither of the two options. It cut down the poplars on the north side of the courts which weren’t causing the damage because there was a root barrier. It left the trees on the west side which probably are causing the damage. So the VH Committee probably hasn’t solved the problem.

The VH Committee considered cutting down yet another five trees which I believe are a horse chestnut and a laburnum (T1 and T2 on the diagram) and a fir and three Lawson Cypress (T8,T9, and T10). It has no plans to cut the trees down at present but obviously, if the report is correct, cracks will appear again and the trees will come under threat once more.

The VH Committee has no plans at present to plant any replacement trees.  (Update - the VH Committee has planted 2 replacement trees.   I have asked what species they are and if there are any plans to plant more but have had no response.) 

Just for completeness, there are mature trees along the east side of the courts bordering the bridleway. These trees are being damaged by the increased traffic along the bridleway, including by articulated lorries which go up the bridleway 2 or 3 times a week and by cars, other lorries and heavy plant.

As the bridleway is narrow alongside the courts, the lorries have to drive within inches of the tree trunks and the hedgerow, compacting the soil. WDC allows this as part of its leases with the tenants on this land.

So the future doesn’t look bright for the trees. Nor does it look good for the residents who would like the tennis courts and their floodlights screened and for the residents who are concerned about the flooding.

I can’t do any more with this problem. The VH committee has confirmed it will continue to meet in private with no minutes available to residents. WDC hasn’t responded to concerns about the flooding and the cutting down of the trees. The committee members of Widmer End Resident’s Association (except for me) don’t think it is WERA’s business.

So if anyone is not happy about the trees, I suggest they talk to or e-mail:

- Members of the VH Committee.  The Chairman is John Marchant and the Secretary is Lyn Marchant on wevh@aol.com

- Cllr Steve Broadbent, who is not only a local councillor but is also the relevant Cabinet member on WDC on steve.broadbent@wycombe.gov.uk

- Catherine Wetherall, Chair of WERA and member of VH Committee on cawetherell37@gmail.com

It might also be helpful to copy e-mails to Ann McCarthy, WERA’s representative on the VH Committee, on annmccarthy2009@gmail.com. I am sure she will continue to do her best to represent residents’ concerns against all the odds.

Rejected by Hughenden Parish Council – a badge I wear with pride

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5 November 2019

Last month I applied for co-option onto Hughenden Parish Council (HPC). I was rejected by a vote of councillors - 6 votes to 3.

HPC is required to provide an explanation for my rejection. However, it can’t or won’t provide one. So I have no idea why I’ve been rejected.

Six of the councillors must have had concerns about my suitability. However, none of the councillors put any concerns to me before or at the Council meeting or asked me any questions. So I had no opportunity to address these concerns.

I now know six residents wrote to the Council before the Council meeting objecting to my becoming a councillor. At the time, I did not know what these objections were or who had made them. I therefore had no opportunity to address those concerns either.

Fourteen residents have applied for co-option onto the Council since the last election in May 2015. I am the only one to be rejected.

I am grateful to those councillors who voted for me and grateful to the people who phoned me after the meeting to check that I was alright. It was very kind of them.

But, in the circumstances, I think it is an honour to be rejected; I wear the badge with pride.

A factual account of these circumstances is below so you can come to your own conclusions.

But before you start, you might remember Hughenden Parish Council is famous – or infamous – because some years ago it ignored concerns about its accounts, failed to ask or get answers about discrepancies and allowed one of its past clerks, Lynne Turner, to defraud it of about £26,000.

A report into the causes, agreed by councillors, concluded they had failed to prevent the fraud due to “complacency and inadequate controls”. The Council agreed to learn the lessons.

All I would say is that HPC still hasn’t learnt that it needs councillors who ask questions, and who keep on asking them until they get answers. It still need councillors who scrutinise the Council’s decisions. 

What happened

Widmer End, where I live, has been poorly represented on Hughenden Parish Council for some years. Widmer End has four seats on the Council but over the past few years it has been lucky to have even one councillor representing Widmer End and, for the past 9 months or so, Widmer End has had no councillor representing it at all.

HPC has had problems with recruiting and retaining councillors from other wards but the problem is particularly acute in Widmer End. The Council has made strenuous efforts to resolve these problems and has made particular efforts in Widmer End, albeit with little success.

As part of these efforts to recruit councillors from Widmer End, the Council held its Annual Parish meeting in April in Widmer End. The Chairman, Paul Nicholls, made a plea to residents to come forward to be co-opted as councillors. He said co-option was a simple and painless procedure – all residents had to do was fill in the form.

Councillor Rick Gould also spoke about the need for Widmer End residents to apply and gave us a talk on his time as a councillor.

The clear impression given by councillors was that residents would be welcomed with open arms on the Council whatever their backgrounds and skills.

I had already been asked by a number of people to put my name forward. However, as I had already done a stint as a councillor, I said it would be good if others took up the work. However, I said I would reconsider in the autumn if no else came forward.

As no one else did come forward, I applied in September.

I was asked by the Clerk to provide a short biography for councillors. Here it is:-

“I retired about 10 years ago since when I have been a volunteer, trustee and/or Chairman of a variety of charities which offered support to prisoners in local prisons and advocacy for vulnerable people. I was a parish councillor in 2013/4 and Chair of Widmer End Residents Association for 3 years until April this year.

Before then, I had my own company for a couple of years providing management consultancy to the Department of Health in London.

Before that I was a civil servant for over 30 years, 20 years as a senior civil servant. I was responsible during that time for advising Ministers on a variety of issues including policing, the prison service, immigration, physical regeneration, the Millennium Dome (in 2000), state aid and employment issues. I also held a number of operational posts including Regional Director for London and the South East for the Health and Safety Executive.

I was responsible for negotiating in the EU on behalf of the UK on a variety of issues, including the supply and use of chemicals, state aid and police IT systems. I was the lead negotiator for the Working Time Directive, the Pregnant Women’s Directive and the Framework Health and Safety Directive, amongst others.

I have a BSc, MSc and PhD in chemistry from Manchester University. I was a fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

I am married, have 2 sons, 2 granddaughters and a dog. I like gardening and my husband’s cooking.”

None of the councillors contacted me before the meeting to discuss my application.

I went to the Council meeting on 8 October and gave, as requested, a short presentation. I said I had the time and commitment until the next election in May next year to put in some hard work for the Council particularly on planning issues; Widmer End faces the threat of major development, not least from the Terriers development. I said I was able, because of my previous time as a councillor, to hit the ground running.

None of the councillors asked me any questions or commented.

The Council then voted and I was told my application for co-option was unsuccessful.

Shortly after, the Council voted to co-opt another applicant to one of the four vacancies in Widmer End.

I waited a week and then wrote to Paul Nicholls asking for an explanation of the Council’s decision. I waited a week because I thought he would write of his own accord as a matter of normal good practice. I hoped he would have thanked me for the time and trouble I took to apply, expressed regret that I was not acceptable to the Council and offered some explanation for my rejection. But none of this happened.

In my e-mail, I pointed out that no councillor had expressed any concerns about my application at any time – either at the meeting or beforehand. So I had no idea why I was rejected and had had no opportunity to address any concerns that councillors might have had.

I said I found it inexplicable that I was rejected by the Council and asked for an explanation.

I also pointed out that this seemed a poor way to encourage other residents to apply for co-option.

The next day Paul Nicholls wrote to say he would leave it to the Clerk to respond on her return from holiday.

So I had to write again to point out that the Clerk could only provide information; it was the Council's responsibility to provide an explanation for its decisions.

Some days later, Paul Nichols responded to say “there was no discussion prior to the vote so there is no information that can be provided as to why individual councilors voted the way that they did, unless they are willing to share that with you.”

Legal advice from the National Association for Local Government says decisions on who to co-opt should be transparent and that Councils need to explain to unsuccessful candidates the reasons for its decision.

As a result of a Freedom of Information request, I now know the Council was given the following confidential advice from the Clerk in line with that NALG legal advice:-

“[Dr Derrick passes] the required eligibility criteria and has relevant skills suitable to the role of a councillor.

With regards to Dr Derrick, I should make you aware that I have received six emails from Widmer End residents indicating that they do not want Dr Derrick to represent them. With over 1600 registered electors in Widmer End, six residents have voiced an opinion against the nomination and two have voiced an opinion in favour. This however is not an election and as such should not be taken into consideration when voting. I would suggest that council focus on the skills of each individual and not the opinions of a few and I would advise extreme caution when voting as with two candidates for four vacancies, council will need to justify its reasons – if asked – if either candidate is unsuccessful.”

I asked, as a Freedom of Information request, to see the six e-mails referred to by the Clerk. I now have copies of three of these e-mails but redacted so I do not know who they are from. The Clerk has declined to provide the other three emails. I have made a formal complaint asking for full disclosure or an explanation for exactly which legal provisions allow exemption.

At least one of these e-mails was sent to Paul Nicholls. Despite a specific Freedom of Information request, he and some of the other councillors have declined to say whether they received these six e-mails or any other representations.

The text of the three e-mails sent to the Clerk and partially disclosed to me are below.

1. “[Redacted] have heard the rumour that Linda Derrick is putting herself forward as a Parish Councillor for Widmer End.

In view of past history of which you are aware, I would like to say, as a resident, I do not wish her to represent the village. I agree [ redacted] we do need someone to represent us on the PC but it needs someone who is more ambassadorial.”

2. I am writing because I have heard a rumour that Linda Derrick is putting herself forward to represent Widmer End on the Parish Council.

I would like it known that I do not want Linda Derrick representing me or our village on the Parish Council I know how Linda deals with people and it can be in an aggressive, undiplomatic and very unkind way at times. I don’t think she has the correct manner to be negotiating any matters with our village. Linda has upset many residents and continues to do so.

3. I have heard a rumour that a lady called Linda Derrick would like to be the Widmer End Parish Councillor.

As a Widmer End resident this would concern me as her approach would appear to be antagonist and I feel this could have a detrimental effect for Widmer End moving forward.

More trees cut down near Widmer End rec – this time by WDC and again with no consultation.

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14 October 2019

I warned in my blog of 3 August 2019 that more trees would be cut down near Widmer End recreation ground. This morning they were.

The trees were on land owned by Wycombe District Council and they were cut down on the orders of the Council.

As far as I am aware, residents were not informed about the cutting down of the trees, let alone consulted.

The AGM of the Widmer End Village Hall and Recreation Ground will be held at 7pm on Thursday 17th October in the Cricket Pavilion behind the village hall.   I hope that at least one WDC Councillor will be present.  

July 2019 - one tree down and at least 8 more to go

I have emailed to the six WDC Councillors concerned – Steve Broadbent, David Carroll, Audrey Jones, Hugh McCarthy, Catherine Oliver and Ron Gaffney. My e-mail is below and I hope it is self- explanatory. I will blog the response I get.

"Dear Councillors

I understand that it is WDC which made the decision to cut down the trees on its land near Widmer End Recreation Ground. The trees were cut down this morning.

I don't know if the trees were in Widmer End or Hazlemere ward but I know the boundary runs very close to where the trees were. So I am sending this e-mail to you all to ensure it goes to the responsible councillors.

As a resident of Widmer End and a frequent walker past these trees, can I say how sad I find it that WDC has cut these lovely, healthy, mature trees down. All of the poplars which were such a feature alongside the bridleway are gone and the tall lights of the tennis club are now exposed.

I understand WDC cut the trees down at the request of Widmer End Tennis Club. It is unclear how many local residents play at the Club but you will understand the Tennis Club can not represent the residents of Widmer End, particularly those most affected by the cutting down of the trees.  I believe WDC has not informed residents about cutting down the trees, let alone consulted them.

I believe it is reprehensible that WDC has cut the trees down and without any notification or consultation of residents.

I would be grateful if you could provide the following information:

- who decided to cut down the trees and when was that decision taken;

- any papers relating to the cutting down of the trees and in particular any papers which explain the rationale for the decision;

- a copy of the request from the Widmer End Tennis Club to cut the trees down, and any representations made to WDC about the trees including any evidence provided for the representations;

- any impact assessment made to assess the impact of cutting down the trees on residents' amenities and/or flooding;

- any plans for cutting down any more trees on this land;

- any plans for planting more trees, and when this will be done.

Kind Regards

Linda Derrick" 

Where did democracy go?

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28 August 2019

This blog is about the response I got from Hughenden Community Support Trust (HCST). I wrote to its Chairman, John Russell, suggesting he make a public statement about the future of a field in Great Kingshill which HCST owns. Many residents feared the field was to be sold for development (see blog below of 22 June 2019).

I also suggested he might respond to the wishes of some residents to register the field as a village green.

I have had no response. 

It might seem odd blogging about a field in Great Kingshill on a day when we find out the Prime Minister is to suspend Parliament for 5 weeks - a constitutional outrage according to John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons. Mr Bercow said it was "blindingly obvious” that the purpose of the suspension was “to stop parliament debating Brexit and performing its duty in shaping a course for the country".

It is also the day in which we learn from leaked emails that the Government intends to set up more free schools and academies forcibly transferring responsibility for the education of our children to companies in the private or the charitable sector.

Yes, it may be odd blogging about a field at such a time but there is a common theme running through these issues – lack of transparency about decisions which affect us, and the lack of opportunity to scrutinise those decisions and hold those responsible to account.

Suspending Parliament is about the Prime Minister avoiding scrutiny of his plans for a reckless no-deal Brexit and refusing to answer questions.

Transferring schools to companies is about avoiding scrutiny about what is happening in education and preventing parents and others holding schools to account.

So while it might seem odd blogging about a field in Great Kingshill when there are so many other major issues at stake, the principles are the same – how do individuals scrutinise decisions which affect them and hold the decision makers to account?

So let’s go back to this field.

For perhaps a hundred years, the title to the field was held by Hughenden Parish Council. The Council thought it owned the field and maintained it, first as allotments and then just as a field.

Parish Councillors are accountable to residents of Hughenden.

Residents elect the councillors every 4 years; the names of the councillors and their e-mail addresses are on the HPC website. Residents are entitled to attend council meetings and are entitled to speak at the beginning of the meetings. The press are also entitled to attend meetings and report on the activities of the Council. See for example the article in the BFP about protests nearly 10 years ago when the Council proposed to develop land it owned in Hughenden Valley.

Agendas, minutes, accounts and other documents are on HPC’s website.

Residents also have a statutory right to ask for information from the Council and the Clerk quickly responds to requests for financial and other information (see for example my blog below of 15 July 2019).

The system is by no means perfect: Some issues are discussed outside the official Council meetings in private; residents only get 2 minutes to have their say at meetings (although this is twice as long as the new unitary authority offers) ; and there is a major problem getting residents to volunteer to be councillors.

However, there is considerable transparency. This allows a reasonable opportunity for scrutiny and some ability to hold councillors to account.

However, 4 years ago, the title to the field was transferred to HCST.

The trustees of this charity aren’t elected – they are chosen by existing trustees. The board of the charity is therefore a self- perpetuating group.

The trustees of HCST, according to the website of the Charities Commission, are:

John Moorby

John Russell

Stan Jones

Neil McMinn

The only contact point is the e-mail and home address of Lyn Marchant.

There is no financial information available because accounts for charities which have an annual income/expenditure below £10,000 are not required to be submitted to the Charities Commission, even if, like HCST, the charity has millions of pounds of assets.

HCST doesn’t seem to have a website.

It has had one Annual General Meeting (over 2 years ago) and the statutory instrument which established HCST does not require it to have any more AGMs. There is no information in the public domain about its meetings, its decisions or its finances.

HCST is not required to provide information to residents or beneficiaries and it seems that it sees no obligation to do so. Like Widmer End Village Hall Committee, it operates in secrecy with very little transparency.

The Charities Commission regulates registered charities in England and Wales. It says:- “We make sure that charities are accountable, well-run and meet their legal obligations. We do this by providing regulatory advice and guidance. We will also intervene in matters where there is serious risk of significant harm to, or abuse of, charities, their beneficiaries or assets.”

A “serious risk” includes criminality, or threats to national security, particularly terrorism. A “serious risk” does not include failure by a charity to provide information - even about matters which affect beneficiaries; in these cases the Commission does not intervene.

There is therefore little, if any, opportunity to scrutinise HCST’s activities and decisions, including the sale of the field in Great Kingshill for development.

And HCST seems accountable to no-one.

Now just ask yourself, who owns and manages our hospitals, schools, universities, railways, water, and utilities. Where is the scrutiny? Where is the accountability?

In short, where is the democracy when people are excluded from decision-making at all levels of our society – from Parliament to the Widmer End Village Hall Committee?

https://www.bucksfreepress.co.uk/news/8628489.councillor-threatens-to-smash-video-camera-at-chaotic-hughenden-parish-council-meeting/

 

 

What’s happened to democracy in Widmer End (and anywhere else for that matter)?

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2 August 2019

Last Monday, the Chairman of Widmer End Village Hall Committee, John Marchant, supervised the cutting down of 5 poplar trees on Widmer End’s recreation ground. More trees will be cut down in future.

Previous blogs (15 May and 3 July) set out the story so far of how the VH Committee, a registered charity, has been conducting its business like a secret society. It has cut the trees down without any consultation with residents who are meant to be the beneficiaries of the charity.

This blog updates the story and leaves you with some questions to ask the VH Committee.

But first, here are the trustees of the VH Committee, according to the website of the Charities Commission:-

John Marchant, Chairman

Linda Marchant, Secretary

Laurence Johnson, Treasurer

Councillor David Carroll

Councillor Hugh McCarthy

Anne McCarthy

David Lancaster

Gerry Lancaster

Christine Cleaves

Daniel Fairless

Catherine Wetherall

Margaret Plummer

I don’t know which of the trustees voted in favour of cutting down the trees – the Chairman has declined to tell me and the minutes are not made publicly available.

All I know is that Margaret Plummer wasn’t allowed to vote as she represents the tennis club which asked for the trees to be cut down and she has a conflict of interest.

Councillor McCarthy wasn’t allowed to vote for reasons which escape me. He has since resigned from the VH Committee after 51 years as a trustee.

Anne McCarthy wasn’t allowed to vote because she is married to Councillor McCarthy – presumably spouses on the VH Committee have no minds of their own.

Back to the update.

I always send my blogs to any one or any organisation mentioned in them and invite them to correct any factual errors and comment. So I sent the last blog to those VH Committee trustees for whom I had e-mail addresses. I hoped I would get some explanation for the VH Committee’s decision to cut down the trees.

I had two responses – one from the Secretary of the VH Committee and one from Daniel Fairless, a trustee and also Chairman of the Residents’ Association. Both complained I had disclosed their e-mail addresses.

Daniel Fairless also complained I had disclosed other personal information and said he would take legal action against me for breaching the General Data Protection Regulation. He later made a formal complaint to the Information Commissioner against me, then resigned from the residents’ association and then withdrew his case (or perhaps it was the other way around).

I had more personal abuse but the only mention he made about the trees was as follows:-

“As you have been told WEVH are legally landlords and can do what they want as long as they follow guidelines and its agreed with a vote. The trees aren't TPO so it's like a tree in your garden, if it's not wanted for what ever reason you can have it cut down with no repercussions."

I had no other response so about 10 days ago, I wrote again to John Marchant.

I asked if the VH Committee had discussed my concerns, as promised by the Secretary in June. I asked whether the principles set out by Daniel Fairless (above) were those the VH Committee had adopted in taking its decision to cut down the trees.

I also asked if the VH Committee could delay cutting down the trees until its AGM in October when residents could discuss and decide the issue. I said this would be in line with the objects of the charity set out in the VH Committee's constitution and in line with the Charity Commission's Governance Code.

No response. And five trees cut down.

I also understand the tennis club has asked Wycombe District Council to cut down 5 more trees which are on WDC-owned land and which are also allegedly damaging the tennis courts. I understand WDC has agreed. I don’t know why.

Nor do I know if even more trees are in the firing line.

So here’s the questions to the VH Committee:

- Why have you not released the 2 independent surveys which examine whether any of the trees were damaging the tennis courts, and gave recommendations?

- Why have you not consulted residents about the options if trees were damaging the courts?

- Why are you still not telling residents whether other trees are under threat?

- Who has paid for the surveys and for cutting down the trees? Who will pay for the replacements for the trees?

- What are the plans for replacing the felled trees?

- As the tennis courts are reputedly damaged, when are they going to be repaired?

- What happens when the roots of the trees – reputedly under the tennis courts – start rotting and subsidence occurs? Will the courts have to be repaired again?

- Planning approval was given to the erection of lights for the tennis courts because the trees provided screening. As the trees are being removed, does this mean the lights should come down?

- Residents, including the Chairman and Secretary of the VH Committee, have complained for years about flooding from the recreation ground into the gardens of surrounding houses. Residents have asked WDC repeatedly to plant more trees in this area to help prevent flooding. And yet the VH Committee and WDC between them are cutting down at least 10 mature trees. How is that going to affect the risk of flooding?

- What’s happened to accountability and democracy in Widmer End?

What’s in WDC’s local plan for Hughenden Parish?

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28 July 2019

Subject to some modifications, Wycombe District’s draft local plan has just been signed off by an independent inspector appointed by the Government.  The plan will probably be ratified by Wycombe District Council next month.

And many local residents won’t have a clue what’s in the plan and what it all means.

So here is the (very short) Beginners’ Guide for Hughenden parish residents. 

WDC’s draft local plan proposes:-

- a housing target for Wycombe District of nearly 11,000 homes over the period 2013 to 2033,

- a major expansion of Princes Risborough and

- a number of sites allocated for housing or employment development.

It provides the framework for future planning decisions.

Four of these sites are in, or border, Hughenden parish i.e.

- Land at Clappins Lane, Naphill (RUR7). This is a greenfield site and is in the Green Belt. It is allocated for 64 homes.

- Uplands Conference Centre, Four Ashes (RUR12). This site is in the Green Belt and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with a listed Grade II building. It is allocated for 59 homes.

- Part of Green Farm, Glynswood, Greenhill (HW9). This is a greenfield site and is in the Green Belt and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. 50 homes are proposed.

- Terriers Farm and Terriers House (HW7). This is a site reserved by WDC for development for many years and borders Hughenden Parish, lying between Amersham Road and Kingshill Road. It is a greenfield site and is allocated for 500 homes (increased by the inspector to 540).

There is at least another 350 homes planned for Hazlemere.

Hughenden Parish Council and resident associations in Widmer End, Hughenden Valley, and Naphill and Walter’s Ash made written representations to the Inspector’s Examination and Widmer End Residents’ Association spoke at the Examination.

They opposed the proposals in the draft local plan to allow development in the Green Belt and Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. They were also concerned about:-

- The lack of planned infrastructure to support the developments e.g. schools, roads, GP surgeries, shops, community facilities which would put pressure on existing communities;

- Increased traffic and pollution; and

- Flooding (for Terriers).

None of these concerns seem to have been addressed by the inspector.

It is now up to the developers who own the land to put forward planning applications to develop these sites.

Congratulations and thank you to Hughenden Parish Council 

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15 July 2019  (and amended on 28 July as suggested by HPC at **) 

The purpose of this blogsite is not to criticise people or organisations; the purpose is to provide information and scrutiny.

This means I ask questions.

Often it takes a mole wrench to extract the answers. Then I know something is probably wrong; people don’t respond because they know their replies won’t stand up to scrutiny. And then I end up criticising what is happening – with good reason.

So it is a pleasure when I ask questions and get the answers right away – clearly and thoroughly.

And this is what happened when I asked Hughenden Parish Council (HPC) about their finances a few weeks ago – I got the answers to most of my questions within 1 working day and the rest a few days later.

Absolutely brilliant. Congratulations to HPC and thank you.

Here’s the questions and the answers.

In 2018/9, HPC spent about £156k (excluding salaries). I wanted to see how much of this went on discretionary grants. I could see this easily from the 2018/9 accounts - about £12k or 8%. Seems reasonable.

I wanted to see if the spend on grants was spread evenly across the parish and/or focused on particular groups of residents. Again I could see very easily from lists provided where the money went.

Some of it is spread evenly across the 4 wards i.e. Hughenden Valley, Naphill and Walter’s Ash, Widmer End and Great Kingshill.  For example, last year, HPC resolved that £5000 would be made available in the form of a grant to each Village Hall for their playgrounds. (To date, Naphill Village Hall and Hughenden Valley Village Hall have received a grant of £5000 each, North Dean Village Hall and Widmer End Village Hall have not yet applied for a grant).** 

However, some spend is skewed across the wards. For example, Great Kingshill got £2000 for its village hall, Widmer End got £2000 for its “village green” but Naphill and Hughenden Valley got nothing for these categories.

Great Kingshill Cricket Club got £1100, Hughenden Valley Football Club got £700 and Widmer End Football Club got £500. Nothing for Naphill and Walter’s Ash sporting activites.

Widmer End got £200 for Christmas lights, Great Kingshill got £300 and Hughenden Valley got an amazing £1700. (You can buy a lot of Christmas lights with £1700!)

The main thing that struck me, however, was how the same organisations get money year after year for the same things. And there was no or very little money awarded for support to vulnerable people. Most of the grants go on maintenance of land and property.

Finally, I wanted to look at one of the larger grants – one of £5000 to Hughenden Valley Community Shop – to see how the process works. Again I was able to see all the applications, first for a grant, then for a loan and then for a grant again.

Whether HPC was right to award the grant is a matter of judgement and I still have questions. But anyone who cares to look can see the papers and decide for themselves.

So it’s gold stars for HPC. 

 Ask a few questions – and see how people in a Bucks village react in such an unpleasant way 

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3 July 2019

Six weeks ago, I found out that Widmer End Village Hall Committee (VH Committee) was considering proposals to cut down some mature, healthy trees on its recreation ground. I asked what was happening (see blog below 15 May).

The VH Committee have now decided they are going to cut down the trees. I asked which ones, when they were to be cut down and for the evidence that it was necessary. This blog sets out what happened to me then. 

It is a long blog because I have quoted e-mails I’ve received verbatim. So you don’t have to take my word for it – you can see what happened for yourself.

But for those that don’t have the time, the end result is that I have been ignored by some people, insulted by others, and expected by the Chairman of Widmer End Residents’ Association (WERA) to attend a meeting to explain “my agenda” and “why I feel the need to upset so many people”.

Most importantly, I still don’t have any answers about the trees.

It's a curious world when people who ask questions of those who are, or should be, accountable find themselves threatened, including by a hostile interrogation.

Just to remind you, the VH Committee is a charity registered with the Charity Commission. According to their Governance Code, this is how a charity should operate: -

Openness and accountability

Principle

The board {of the charity] leads the organisation in being transparent and accountable. The charity is open in its work, unless there is good reason for it not to be.

Rationale

The public’s trust that a charity is delivering public benefit is fundamental to its reputation and success, … Making accountability real, through genuine and open two-way communication that celebrates successes and demonstrates willingness to learn from mistakes, helps to build this trust and confidence and earn legitimacy”.

Now read on – because this is what happened.

On 3 June, I went to a committee meeting of Widmer End Residents’ Association (WERA). I am a member of the committee. Four members of the WERA committee are also trustees of the VH Committee - John Marchant, who is the Chairman of the VH Committee, Lyn Marchant, who is Secretary of the VH Committee, Catherine Wetherall and Daniel Fairless. Daniel Fairless is also Chairman of WERA.

I asked what was happening about the proposals to cut down the trees. None of the trustees on WERA was prepared to provide any information.

I suggested to John Marchant that the VH Committee was conducting its business like a secret society. He said the trouble was I didn’t have the right handshake (presumably a reference to the fact I am not a Mason).

The WERA committee decided its Secretary should write to the VH Committee to ask what the proposals were for cutting down the trees. He has not yet done so.

On 20 June, I wrote to John Marchant and Daniel Fairless asking if I could know the outcome of the discussion by the VH Committee about the cutting down of the trees. I received no response from John Marchant. This is the response from Daniel Fairless:-

“Regarding the Tennis Club and the trees, this matter is in hand and at present I'm unable to disclose information to anyone. I understand your frustration but please be assured, you, WERA and residents will be advised in due course.“

I asked why Daniel Fairless could not disclose the information. I felt it was particularly important for him, as the Chairman of WERA which represents residents, to be open and transparent about an issue which is causing residents concern.

Daniel Fairless responded:-

“Because I have a duty as a VH commitee member to abide to the wishes of Chairman.”

On 22 June, I was copied a letter from Lyn Marchant which had been delivered to houses in two roads in Widmer End. The text is at the bottom of this blog.

I sent her my comments on the letter i.e.

- There should be some opportunity for residents' to make their views known before a decision had been taken on the trees and to hold the VH committee to account before the trees were cut down.

- The information provided in the letter was limited. Which trees were going to be cut down? Was it all the poplars? And the horse chestnuts? and all the other trees in the vicinity?

- WERA had no formal representation on the VH Committee when this decision was taken as required under the VH Committee’s constitution.

- Cutting down the trees would affect more people than the residents of two roads. It impacted on everyone who used the recreation ground and who walked in this part of the village and happened to like trees.

- All residents of Widmer End are beneficiaries and should be informed about what is going on.

I also asked for copies of the two independent reports referred to in the letter and how trustees had voted when making these decisions.

Lyn Marchant told me my comments would be put before the next meeting of the VH Committee.

I asked if that would be before or after the trees had been cut down and if this meeting could be an open meeting.

Lyn Marchant told me there would be no public discussion. There was no answer as to when the trees were to be cut down.

On 24 June, Daniel Fairless e-mailed to say:-

“Many thanks for highlighting these questions, I understand why you are asking these but as WERA have not voted on you or anyone in the committee to, I feel it in the best interests of WERA you do not copy any commitee member in any further correspondence. This must be done on your own as a resident.”

I responded to say that WERA committee members had asked for more information but this had not been pursued. He, Daniel Fairless, had declined to tell me what was happening. So as a committee member, I was in the dark about an issue which affected residents, including possibly affecting the value of their homes.

I added that I had been asking questions as a resident. I assumed other members of WERA's committee would want to know my concerns and I would continue to let them know. T

This is the answer I received from Daniel Fairless:-

“As I've said I understand the questions but I don't understand why you feel the need to constantly harass people in our village and further afield? Maybe in your next blog you can write a autobiography on your self explaining why you do what you do? I'm bamboozled by your actions and your blogs which are fiction as not all the facts are correct.

It feels like I'm listening to my daughter constantly going on about the same thing and not listening and excepting the answer given! Lyn has given her answers in a acceptable time , that you may not agree but nonetheless you need to except and move on. The residents you talk of have never given their details to WERA therefore it's your word against everyone else. I don't want to hear anymore about you finding fault with WEVH, Grange Farm the Tennis Club etc without good reason, if this continues WERA will find themselves with out a chairman as I can't be dealing with this constant harassment to people who are trying to make our village a safe ,great place to live.

Just food for thought , if you upset Grange Farm they could give up the lease and the coucil could build housing . The WEVH could sell the land which is in their constitution and more housing could be built .......very unlikely but it would be down to people like you upsetting the apple cart. Again I understand the need for explanations but you're not always going to agree with everything.”

I responded :-

“When people take up positions of responsibility such as becoming a trustee, they also become accountable - sometimes legally so.

One of the definitions of "accountable" is "answerable"; accountability is about answering questions and explaining actions and decisions.

As a trustee of the VH committee you are expected - actually required - to ensure that the charity is accountable, particularly to its beneficiaries which includes me and other residents.

Asking a charity legitimate questions about its decisions and the reasoning behind those decisions is not harassment. It is the right of the beneficiaries to ask reasonable, legitimate questions.”

I also asked that when he wrote to me as the Chairman of WERA he did so in a respectful manner; as the Chairman he was responsible for WERA's reputation and I did not think his e-mail reflected well on WERA.

To which Daniel Fairless responded:_

“Linda please take extra time to read how I have signed this email ? Regards Dan Fairless resident NOT as chairman ! This is my personal view and one I won't back down on .

If you want an open discussion I will put it in the next agenda and you can take a Q & A from residents and committee members on all the topics you have brought up. I'm happy to give you 20 min to I will also invite Manor Estates up and councillors this way we can all find out what your agenda is and why you feel the need to upset so many people. “

He then wrote to eight people, including WDC Councillors, inviting them to the next meeting of WERA tonight, saying:- 

“As most will know the last 2 years have been rather intense with emails of complaints over issues ranging from fires, cockshoot wood, trees being cut down by the tennis courts, flooding, large 16 wheeler lorries , Grange Rd bridleway, selling of food from the farm, adopting animals , Facebook , parking etc

I believe most are straight forward but some residents feel the need to constantly bombarded you with unnecessary emails wasting valuable time and resources! I would like to give each of you a limited time (approx 10 min) to respond to these questions and then for you in return to ask questions to anyone who has emailed you?”

I believe only Andy James, who leases Grange Farm in Widmer End, took up this invitation.

Mr James has written abusive Facebook posts about me. Daniel Fairless has said Mr James is a friend and he, Daniel Fairless, is 100% behind Mr James.

Mr James has also accosted me when I was walking my dog, called me names and threatened me with legal action. I reported this to a WERA meeting.

Despite this, he was the guest speaker at tonight’s WERA meeting and was one of the people expected to ask me questions to “find out what my agenda is”.

I did not attend the WERA meeting tonight.

If you have got to the end of this blog, you might want to go back to the beginning and read the Governance Code again.

It is indeed a curious world when people who ask questions of those who are, or should be, accountable find themselves threatened, including by a hostile interrogation.

Letter from Lyn Marchant, Secretary of Widmer End Village Hall Committee 22 June 2019

Dear Friends and Neighbours,

You may have heard rumours regarding the trees which abut the tennis court boundary on the recreation ground. Unfortunately, the roots of the trees are disturbing and damaging the surface of the tennis courts and the Lawn Tennis Association will not allow tennis to be played on court 3 (nearest the cricket nets) because the damage is a health and safety threat and makes the court unusable.

The village hall trustees have looked into this very carefully and had long and deep discussions about this as they are loath to remove healthy trees. They have received two independent reports that recommend that the trees should be removed as their roots are and will in the future damage the courts’ surfaces. Lombardy poplars, in particular, and beautiful as they are, should never be planted close to any structure due to their root spread.

Following these reports from the Wycombe District Council’s Arboricultural Officer and an independent private Arboriculturist, whose findings are similar, the trustees have sadly taken the decision to fell the said trees.

However, the Trustees are concerned to mitigate the loss of the trees as far as possible and the Wycombe District Council’s Arboricultural Officer has advised that he is willing to assist with advice on replacement plantings around the recreation ground. This will take place during the autumn which is the optimum time for tree and hedge planting.

We are very sorry to have had to make this decision. However, the tennis club is a community asset which we do not wish to lose and the long-term viability of the tennis club will be compromised if they cannot make full use of the facility and face constant repair costs.

With very best wishes,

Lyn 

 

The mystery of funding from Hughenden Parish Council to Hughenden Valley Community Shop

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28 June 2019

Hughenden Parish Council (HPC) is a statutory body which gets a considerable amount of its income from the ratepayer – including me. So I thought I would look at is finances. 

In 2018/9, HPC had an income of about £270K, spent about £63K on staff costs and about £156K on “other payments”. It carried forward £292k to this year.

It has been spending less than its income for some years and its reserves have been building up.

The next step was to find out what HPC spent its money on – where did that £156K go? What I needed were HPC’s accounts for 2018/9.

But I couldn’t find them on HPC’s website.

I tried under “Finance and accounts”. No joy. I tried under “Annual Parish Meeting”. No joy. I looked under the minutes of the Full Council and the Finance and Services Committee. No joy.

I was obviously missing something. So I will have to ask.

I know that most of the spend goes on things that sort of have to be done – like providing allotments, managing the Garden of Rest and cutting the grass and hedges. However, some of the budget is discretionary; the Council can and does provide grants and loans at its discretion to organisations within Hughenden parish.

I thought I would see how much of the spend went on these discretionary grants and loans. But I couldn’t find the information. So I will have to ask.

I also wanted to see if the spend on grants and loans was spread evenly across the parish. Were they focussed on particular groups of residents? Or for particular purposes for example to meet environmental, or social or health objectives?

But I will have to ask about this too.

So I thought I would just look at one of the larger grants and see how the process works. Unfortunately I couldn’t even find a list of organisations which had received a grant or loan. I will have to ask.

Finally, I remembered that the Hughenden Valley Community Shop Ltd received some funding from HPC not long ago and I simply decided to see how much and why.

Hughenden Valley Community Shop Ltd is registered as a Mutual Society. According to its accounts, it got a grant of 10K during 2016. At this time, its joint Chairmen were David Johnson and Simon Kearey. The latter was (and still is) a parish councillor.

The Community Shop had 250 members, a turnover of £18K, and a trading loss of £36K. It had outstanding loans to its members of £8K. The grant and an insurance payout of £34 K meant it had a £12K surplus for the year.

So now I knew the grant was provided in 2016, all I had to do was look at HPC’s minutes for 2016 to find out more. And great, there it was in the minutes for February 2016 – an application by the Community Shop for £10k which HPC Council approved.

Trouble is, this was an application for a loan, not a grant. The loan was to be provided subject to a satisfactory proposal to secure the loan and/or adequate personal guarantees for its repayments.

In April, the Council discussed the application again and confirmed its decision.

In May, a resident spoke at the Council expressing concern about the loan. He or she (and I don’t know who this was) said a proper business case had not been produced by the Community Shop and that action had been taken without adequate consultation with community groups. The Chairman of the Council repeated the Council’s previous decision to provide a loan of £10k, subject to the guarantees of repayment.

In June, the Council discussed it yet again. And suddenly, the loan became a grant. The Council resolved to “confirm the grant in the sum of £5000 which had been resolved in principle under resolution 15335”, subject to evidence of match funding.

There’s no explanation for the change of heart by the Council and as a ratepayer I’m left wondering. Why did HPC decide the funding didn’t have to be repaid? Where’s this resolution 15335? And did the Council ever receive a proper business case?

I know its three years ago. However, it’s a large sum – and it just happens to be the one I choose to look at. If the one I happen to choose raises so many questions, what about the others? 

 

Do you know what is planned for a field in Great Kingshill? 

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22 June 2019

This is a story about a field in Great Kingshill, a village in Hughenden parish (see map). It is also about a local charity which conducts its business in secret. 

The field is the green area under the arrow

About a month ago, residents of Great Kingshill saw what they thought were surveyors on the field. This is a field which was proposed for development some years ago and residents were concerned that someone was planning to build on it.

So residents wanted to know what was happening.

For something like 150 years, this field belonged to Hughenden Parish Council. It used to be used for allotments. Then, in 2015, the Charity Commission transferred the title of the land to a charity called Hughenden Community Support Trust, with the consent of HPC (see blog of 5 October 2017 below).

Curiously, HPC didn’t realise the transfer had taken place and for many months refused to accept that they had lost the title to the land.

Even more curiously, even when HPC accepted the title had transferred, it continued to use taxpayers’ money to maintain the land. On top of which, even more mysteriously, HPC has apparently paid all the legal fees which HCST has incurred as a result of the transfer.

A resident of Hughenden parish appealed against the transfer and the case has been the subject of legal proceedings. But, unless the courts decide otherwise, HCST owns the field.

HPC is negotiating – in private - to lease back the field from HCST; HPC then propose to leave it as it is.

So the obvious organisations to ask what is happening to this field are HPC and HCST.

The Clerk of HPC has said the Council knows nothing about any surveying work on the field.

The Honorary Secretary of HCST, Lyn Marchant, said HCST “needs to quell the rumours” about the field, maintaining HCST is committed to not selling the field and under no pressure from the Charities Commission to do so.

However, this response is not entirely accurate.

Previous trustees of HCST, including its Chairman, said they had every intention of selling the land. Moreover, the Charity Commission has written to HCST saying:

"I can confirm that since the foundation of the charity it has no power of disposal as it was intended to be held in perpetuity. However, charity law recognises that it is not always sensible for land to be retained. In this case, if the land is not needed for, or is not suitable for use for, allotments for the poor then it should be disposed of and the income generated by the invested proceeds of sale applied for the relief of poverty in the area of benefit."

This is consistent with the Commission’s general guidance to charities for "assets and resources to be used in the best possible way for the beneficiaries". So I can understand if the Commission thinks that the lease of the field to HPC for a relatively small rent is not the best way to use this very valuable asset.

And of course future trustees may well wish to dispose of the land, as told to do so by the Commission.

Meanwhile, a group of local residents plan to register the field as a village green which would protect it from development.

I and other residents have suggested that the Chairman of HCST’s trustees could issue a statement explaining what is happening. Better still, HCST could hold its AGM and answer questions from residents. It is required to do this by law but hasn’t, to my knowledge, done so since March 2017.

Even better, HCST could support the application for village green status or even make the application themselves. I understand they are considering this.

The trustees are John Russell, Stan Jones, John Moorby and Neil McMinn.

Lyn Marchant has said that reports of surveying work is “fake news” and pointed out that I am not an official representatives of Great Kingshill. However, I don’t need to be an official representative; as a resident of Hughenden parish, I am a beneficiary of HCST and have a legitimate interest.

I also have an interest because a public right of way runs through the field, providing a vital link between networks of footpaths in the parish. And I walk these footpaths.

Of course anyone can carry out a survey even if they don’t own the land. For example, the work could have been commissioned by a developer, with or without HCST’s knowledge, or by interested individuals.

So something may be afoot – but we, the residents, may never know. 

Did you know there are proposals to cut down trees on Widmer End recreation ground? 

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15 May 2019

This is a story about proposals to cut down some trees.

I’m going to take it as read that trees are good for us – good for our mental and physical health, good for preventing pollution and good for the planet.

In fact, a recent Government report recommends we should plant billions of trees in the UK. Not to mention the fact that a view with trees can increase the value of your house.

So you would think that no-one would consider cutting down mature, healthy trees without very good reason and careful thought, particularly when those trees are on a popular recreation ground.

The trees in question are on land owned by Widmer End Village Hall and Recreation Ground (WEVH). WEVH is a charity, registered with the Charity Commission in 1971. The land is valued for insurance purposes at over £0.5 million and is in an area of outstanding natural beauty and in green belt. It is also registered with Fields in Trust as a QEII field.

I understand the land was originally transferred to parishioners in the 19th century by the Government as recreational allotments as part of the upheaval caused by land enclosure.

The land includes Widmer End Village Hall, a recreation ground where the village cricket team play, and a children’s playground.

WEVH is financially comfortable. Apart from its capital assets, it has over £30K in the bank. It has an income of about £15K a year from the hire of the Hall and it gets over £1k in grant from the taxpayer. This covers the maintenance of the land and property. There is also £5k in the parish council’s budget for maintaining the playground although WEVH has not applied for this money.

WEVH has 12 trustees listed on the Charity Commission’s website http://apps.charitycommission.gov.uk/Showcharity/RegisterOfCharities/ContactAndTrustees.aspx?RegisteredCharityNumber=263125&SubsidiaryNumber=0

WEVH leases some of the land to Widmer End Tennis Club and it is the Tennis Club that is asking WEVH for the trees to be cut down. And this is where it becomes very cloudy because there is no information available to residents about the proposals.

Apparently the Club says the trees are damaging the tennis courts. However, there is no information available about the damage nor about which trees are causing the damage. The courts are surrounded by trees – about 6 poplars (as in the picture), some birches, horse chestnuts and conifers. 

 

I asked the Chairman of WEVH about the proposals but have not had an answer. However, I understand that no professional survey has been carried out – in fact I am not clear that there is any paperwork on the proposals.

I understand WEVH is considering the proposals tomorrow; I’ve asked if I can attend the meeting but the Chairman said the meeting is only open to trustees.

I don’t know the terms of the Tennis Club’s lease. All I can guess is that the Tennis Club pays no rent as there is no rent income in WEVH’s accounts. Nor do I know anything about the Tennis Club’s finances or membership; the Club does not appear to be registered as a charity or a company. It charges membership fees but I have no idea whether it makes a profit.

To complicate matters further, about 10 years ago the Tennis Club put in a planning application for 12 lights each 8 metres high so members could play in the evenings. The application was opposed by WEVH, the residents association and others.

Wycombe District Council turned the application down but it was allowed on appeal. The Planning Inspector, in allowing the appeal, took into account the screening provided by the trees. The trees reduced the impact of the illumination on residents’ houses and the visual impact of the lights on the character and appearance of this area of outstanding natural beauty.

So there you have it.

12 trustees of WEVH, one of whom represents the Tennis Club, will apparently decide tomorrow whether any of the trees should be cut down. They are doing this without consulting residents, or even informing them, and in private.

And I bet this sort of thing is going on all over Bucks and the UK. Do you know who owns your village or community hall or recreation ground? Or who runs it? Do you know whether it is run at a profit or loss? And do you know how decisions are taken? 

Who owns your allotment?

5 October 2017  

Below is a letter published in the Bucks Free Press on 29 September.   It has little to do with politics, except in so far as changes to the planning system make it easier for developers to build on undeveloped land, including ex-allotments.   I just thought residents in Bucks might like to know of this test case in Hughenden which might affect the ownership of their allotment.   

Dear Editor

Some of your readers may be aware from letters in the Telegraph that Hughenden Parish Council is at the centre of a legal test case about allotments; the outcome of the case may have implications for something like 800 parishes, mainly in Southern England, and may affect the ownership of something like 2000 acres of land.  

This letter is intended to alert parish councils to the implications of the case.      

In June 2015, after many years of discussion, the Charities Commission formally asked Hughenden Parish Council to agree to the setting up of a new charity and to the transfer of the title of four allotment sites and other land to the charity.  HPC agreed.

So on 7 October 2015, the Charities Commission set up the new charity – the Hughenden Communities Support Trust – and transferred the title to the land.   This was done by an Order (Reference No 795/1516).

On 19 June 2017, the First-tier Tribunal of the General Regulatory Chamber dismissed appeals against the Order by a resident of Hughenden parish.  The Tribunal’s decisions are online (CA/2015/011 and CA/2017/0002).

What the tribunal case has done – in layman’s terms - is reverse what has been widely accepted as the outcome of a case that went to the Court of Appeal, called the Snelling v Burstow case.   Since that case it has been widely accepted that allotments known as field garden allotments were held by parish councils in trust but were not held as a charitable trust i.e. the land belonged to the parish council not a charity. 

The Hughenden case now means, again in layman’s terms, that field garden allotments should legally be transferred from a parish council to a charity set up for that purpose. Whether the Charities Commission will insist on this is up to the Commission.

The Hughenden case is still progressing.  The resident is asking for the decisions of the tribunal to be reconsidered on procedural grounds.   If unsuccessful with this request, she may ask for permission to appeal against the decisions to the Upper Tribunal. 

So far, the resident has conducted the case personally without legal advice or funding.  It has been an enormous amount of work and, at the hearing, she faced a legal team from the Commission headed by a barrister.   She will need legal support for the next stage which will need funding.

If you think your allotments might be affected, you might like to consult the National Allotment Society.    

You might also think about supporting the resident taking this case further, perhaps through the Society.  If she loses the case, your allotments might have to be transferred to a charity.   Your parish council will then have to find a way to continue to provide allotments.   Meanwhile, the charity which then holds the land will be under some pressure to sell the land, probably for development, as the charity will be required to maximise its assets for the purposes of the charity. 

Yours sincerely

Linda Derrick (Dr)

 

Hughenden Parish Council - the council that never learns?

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5 January 2017

In November 2015, I wrote to the Chairman of Hughenden Parish Council, Peter Williams, expressing concerns about some decisions of the Council. As a resident, I expected him to address my concerns.

Instead, within hours, HPC’s Clerk, Peter Wetherman, threatened me with legal proceedings for making allegedly defamatory statements – and I found myself falling down a rabbit hole to Wonderland where the normal rules of courtesy and fairness ceased to exist.

I asked Mr Wetherman what these alleged defamatory statements were. He never responded. Like the Queen of Hearts, he shouted “Off with her head” but wouldn’t explain why.

Mr Wetherman than asked the Council to pay for his proposed legal action. The Council agreed and decided I had made “wholly false and untrue” statements.

I asked what those “wholly false and untrue” statements were. The Vice-Chairman of the Council, Paul Nichols, couldn't tell me - he could only tell me the statements were whatever Mr Wetherman thought they were.

I found out three months later that the Council had no record of these statements.

It would have helped if I had been able to listen to the Council discussing these allegedly “wholly false and untrue” statements, find out what I had said and put my point of view. But when I asked, the Council voted to eject me from the Council meeting. Then, on the advice of Mr Wetherman, they discussed whatever it was I said, in private with Mr Wetherman. I had been thrown out of the Mad Hatter’s tea party.

I made a formal complaint to the Council in March 2016 and asked them to retract what they said about me and apologise.

The Council prevaricated and ignored me for 6 months. Tweedledee and Tweedledum would have been proud.

It took £1400 worth of legal advice, paid for by the taxpayer, before the Council decided to consider my complaint.

It took another two months for the Council to tell me the arrangements for hearing my complaint. Two days later, the Council withdrew these arrangements and gave me alternative arrangements. A week later, it withdrew the alternative arrangements (which were probably unlawful). It then decided not to consider my complaint. The Mad Hatter’s tea party was still in charge.

Five years ago, Hughenden Parish Council ignored concerns about its accounts and allowed its then Clerk to defraud it of about £26,000 due to “complacency and inadequate controls”. The Council subsequently agreed that “lessons should be permanently learnt”.

I wonder if Hughenden Parish Council has learnt its lessons.