Bernard Hall, Cuddington
By Haddenham Webteam - 3rd March 2018 10:15am
In late February, local resident Tony Stephens wrote an open letter to Haddenham Parish Council to express his concerns about the decision to widen Green Lane and to lay a multi-user accessible surface. Here is the correspondence from Tony and the formal reply from the parish council.
Open letter to the Parish Council
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I was sorry to be a party to some rather ill-tempered interventions at the Planning Committee meeting on Monday 19th February, but in spite of that I want to return to the subject of the changes currently being undertaken in Green Lane.
A number of parishioners feel, rightly, that we have been rather let down by the Parish Council on this matter, and are astonished and horrified at the alterations which are evidently due to be carried out to a beauty spot which has been a favourite to generations of Haddenham residents. I count myself among that number.
A minority group which appears to have undue influence is imposing these changes, and it could be thought that they have neither been publicised sufficiently, nor planned in accordance with what may be majority wishes. I would like to make the following points:
Cllr O'Hanlon spent some time maintaining correctly, I am sure, that the matter was not in the remit of the Planning Committee, and therefore no blame should attach to the Parish Council . His suggestion was that we should be vigilant on our own account and no protection could be afforded for any planning matter which was not in the parish's sphere of influence. He did not seem to see that the complaint was about the conduct of the Parish Council in general, and their neglect of their duty to parishioners to try and protect us from unfavourable outcomes. Complainants were not interested in the minutiae of the planning regime when we should have a Parish Council informing and supporting us in village matters. This is what you are elected for.
The changes were said to have been well publicised. They were certainly known about in some quarters (I knew about them myself some time ago, and objected), but they received general attention only after the money had been allocated and permissions, if needed, obtained. It is not sufficient for the Parish Council to rely on haddenham.net, voluntarily run, or the Village Society, as a mouthpiece: and I think I am correct in asserting that the piece in the Parish News appeared only after the project was a fait accompli. This will be a sufficient change for there to have been some sort of organized consultation, which would at least have brought out deeply divided opinions.
The works are said to be in the interest of the village generally: on whose say-so? I think, the Walking & Cycling Group, which does not represent a majority of villagers, nor, probably, even a majority of Green Lane users. Access for disabled and those of lesser mobility is all very fine (although it is frequently used as a cloak for more generally unfavourable development), but a basic principle should be that the benefit to the many should not be reduced simply to ensure an improvement for a minority. As examples, if I were to suggest that Maypole dancing on the village green should be cancelled as it is not an activity which can be easily undertaken by those in wheelchairs, or that the Church should be demolished because its presence may offend some people who do not believe in God, you might agree that this sort of argument can be a fallacy.
It has been pointed out that the money for this project cannot be spent on anything else. Fine, but that does not justifiy mis-spending it. Leave it unspent, and it would find its way in to other council budgets in due course, or, at worst, would remain unspent or be returned to central government.
If I understand it correctly, any objections from the British Horse Society were sidelined by advising them that 6m of space existed over and above the 2m of proposed surfaced pathway, for the use of horses. This says to me that the clearance will go all the way out to the field boundaries on either side, and does not sit comfortably with the description of some pruning and cutting back which was how it was presented to the village. Either the BHS has been misled, or the village has. When the work has been carried out we will find out which — but by then it will be too late to reinstate, because the damage will have been done.
Parish Councillors are volunteers, I know and appreciate that. Over 50 years of volunteering myself, however (sometimes as much as 2 days a week running a national Motor Club with 7000 members) I have learned that being a volunteer does not mean that you can escape criticism when you do a bad job. On the matter of Green Lane the Parish Council has done a very bad job: some trust has been lost, and this will not be easily regained.
Reply from the Clerk of Haddenham Parish Council
Haddenham Safe Walking and Cycling Group approached the Parish Council in 2016 to seek help in applying for New Homes Bonus funding for this project, based on a feasibility study carried out in 2015.
The aim of the project is to improve accessibility to the Green Lane Bridleway. The bridleway has become very muddy and overgrown, so is not currently very accessible. A path like the Phoenix Trail in Thame will be created, where the recreational space can be shared and enjoyed by all. The project makes a start on achieving the long-held desire to create a cycleway from Haddenham to Thame and Aylesbury. This is included in the Haddenham Neighbourhood Plan (Project 6) to encourage non-car forms of transport as part of a sustainable development plan. The Neighbourhood Plan went through several stages of public consultation and was well supported at the referendum.
A feasibility is in hand for the Thame cycleway, which has some developer contributions allocated through section 106 agreements in both Haddenham and Thame, but it will need landowners' cooperation and further funding to make it happen. Progress on this cycleway is very slow to the frustration of those involved, as the issues involved in delivering it are complex. By contrast, the Aylesbury route is partly in place, with the missing section running from Haddenham to Dinton. The part that runs alongside the A418 has some of the complexities of the Thame cycle route, however the first section which is Green Lane, is much simpler to deliver.
New Homes Bonus funding is paid by central government to District Councils as an incentive to encourage home building. Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) decided to make some of this funding available to towns and parishes that could demonstrate growth via a grant system. Haddenham is identified in the Vale of Aylesbury Local Plan as a strategic settlement for growth, so meeting this criterion. Grants are only available for projects where no section 106 funding is available. The application must come from a town or parish council to ensure the level of governance required when spending public money. Therefore, if the application comes from a community group, the parish council needs to agree to support the project and manage the finances. The Parish Council agreed to support this project, because it meets objectives set out in the Neighbourhood Plan, although concerns were raised about the cost and the vote was not unanimous. The Parish Council's support does not guarantee funding as the decisions on which projects are funded are recommended by the grants panel and approved by cabinet at AVDC, who consider all applications from across the district. The full conditions for qualifying for a grant can be found on the AVDC website.
The responsibility for maintenance of public rights of way lies with Bucks County Council (BCC). This project has been done in full consultation with officers at BCC who have approved the scheme. The project managers worked with BCC to address concerns raised by the riparian land owners of the path and modified plans to ensure the concerns they have raised have been resolved. The County Council would not approve the use of a flexi-pave surface as this a lot less durable than tarmac thus increasing ongoing maintenance costs. The tarmac will only be 2m of the full 6m width of the path so a clear 1m soft surface strip beside the tarmac will be available for horse riders.
One of the project managers is responsible for the creation of Snakemoor Nature reserve, so his personal priorities are for conservation. The clearance work is being carried out in the winter, before the nesting season to minimise disruption to wildlife. There is no evidence of bats in the trees. The intention is to plant native wild flowers along the path to naturalise once work is complete. As with all winter clearance work, the area will look bare for a while until the new growth starts in the spring.
This project is an example of how the parish council can bring together local voluntary groups with higher tiers of local government to deliver local projects. The relationships are often complex with responsibilities divided and the Parish Council can help with this. Other examples of this working are the zebra crossing on Woodways that received New Homes Bonus Funding in 2014 and a new application from the Youth and Community Centre in 2017 to fund improvements to the kitchen. The Parish Council is always happy to hear from community groups who are looking for funding for local projects that need parish council support and help meet parish priorities.
Ms. Sue Gilbert
Haddenham Parish Council