Wealden District Association of Local Councils
Minutes of a Meeting of the Wealden District Association of Local Councils held in the Green Room in the Civic Centre in Uckfield on Wednesday 12th October 2022 at 7.00 pm
1. Present: Councillors Keith Stevens (Chairman, Wartling), Robert Nathan (Hartfield), Deveda Redman (Mayfield and Five Ashes), Martyn Garrett (Crowborough), Martin Cooper (Willingdon and Jevington), Geoff Sambrook (Isfield), Michael Garner (Arlington), Bev Johnstone (Rotherfield), Roy Iremonger (Warbleton), Keith Graham (Warbleton), Diane Ward (Uckfield), Tony Blake (Danehill), Douglas Murray (Polegate) and Ann Loyd (Hooe).
Also in attendance; Mr Karl Taylor (Assistant Director for Operations and Contract Management ESCC), Mr Dale Poore (Contract Management and Head of Highway Infrastructure Services ESCC), Ann Newton (Wealden District Council) and Alison Stevens (Honorary Secretary).
2. Apologies for Absence: Apologies for absence were received from: Beryl Smith (Berwick), Sally Carnie (Berwick), Kaye Crittell (Ninfield), Graham Knight (Horam), Andy Watkins (Willingdon and Jevington), Shirley McKinnon (Pevensey), Susan Cole (East Hoathly with Halland), Martin Craddock (Maresfield), Lucy Buck (Rotherfield), Kay Moss (Crowborough), Trevor Leggo (ESALC), Patrick Coffee (Heathfield), Penny Strudwick (Hellingly), Councillor Clare Dowling (ESCC) and Ruby Brittle (ESCC).
3. Draft Minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on the 13th July 2022 – The minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on the 13th July 2022 were read, approved by all and signed by the Chairman. The quorum figure was queried and is going to be reviewed at the next meeting. Members agreed to let things stay as they are in the meantime.
The Management Meeting which was going to be held on the 14th September was cancelled because it fell within the official mourning period. Members agreed by email to keep the Association’s subscriptions the same as last year so the invoices could be sent out.
5. Speakers Mr Karl Taylor and Mr Dale Poore, both from ESCC Highways Department
The Chairman welcomed Mr Karl Taylor and Mr Dale Poore from ESCC Highways. Mr Taylor gave a brief introduction on the presentation and a copy will be sent out with these Minutes.
Highways has four service areas; Highway Maintenance, Traffic and Road Safety, Transport Development Control and Transport Planning. Its priorities are;
- The safety of the network to ensure it is safe and available.
- To make sure it is maintained in the best condition it can be within the parameters of a limited budget.
Policies are in place and these are led and approved by ESCC. They shape its approach to maintaining the highway and enable it to use its funding and resources efficiently. They are also set out in the contract with Costains Jacobs.
As a Highway Authority the County Council is not expected to fix everything on the network.
The Highway Network covers almost 2000 miles of roads, 1500 miles of footways, 2 tunnels, 974 bridges, 37000 street lights, 200 signal junctions and crossings, 98000 gullies with chambers, culverts and pipes, nearly 3000 miles of grass verges, thousands of trees as well as signs, bollards, barriers, road studs and road markings.
Revenue works are funded by the council tax, business rates and government grants. The budget is about £10m of which £7.8m is for its Core Services. There is a winter maintenance programme. Approximately 30000 safety defects are repaired annually.
Capital works are funded from one-off Capital Investments which are borrowed by the Council or come from Government grants. Borrowing is paid back from revenue money and around £23m is spent annually. These works are usually larger scale and deal with multiple issues at once through an annual programme which is produced at the beginning of each year. Work carried out is determined from annual highway condition surveys and reports from customers and stewards. A prioritised list of schemes is produced to deliver the maximum benefit from the budget. 70000 queries are received each year and the aim is to respond to all of them within ten days. Many will require an inspection by the Highways Steward. There are twelve Highways Stewards for the whole county.
Contact for day to day issues can be emailed to email@example.com. Queries about policy decisions or that fall outside the day to day maintenance work can be raised with Ruby Brittle who is the Stakeholder and Engagement Manager.
A question and answer session followed in which it was noted;
- To the outsider it seems to make sense to repair all the potholes in one stretch of road at the same time. This is not possible because each pothole has to be assessed and prioritised and there are legal timeframes in which they have to be fixed. These deadlines would then not be met.
- Many roads in the county were not designed to take the volume of traffic they now take.
- S106 orders can be imposed on developers as part of the planning process to make improvements.
- Wording on signs, especially ‘road closed’ rather than ‘road ahead closed’, is often misleading. Wording is laid down by law but they will take comments on board.
- Potholes are often repaired to a poor standard. The County Council relies on the public to report any that have opened up again. One councillor felt the roads in Kent are in a much better state than ours.
- Parish Councils should report faults via the email above and copy in their Highways Steward. The contact details for Highways Stewards are included in the presentation which will be sent out with the minutes.
- Roadside verges are repaired but only when there is a safety issue.
- Streetlights owned by Parish and Town Councils can be disconnected if they (the Parish and Town Councils) are concerned about rising costs. Councils considering this need to talk to their Street Lighting Team in the first instance.
6. Updates from Wealden District Council
Councillor Ann Newton read from her report which was as follows;
- There were 570 arrivals in Wealden.
- 715 visas were approved (ie; 145 still to come).
- Numbers increase by around ten a week.
- Wealden has the second highest number of arrivals of Lower Tier Local Authorities nationally.
- Concerns remain about the impact on council services following the potential end of the support and/or breakdown of support networks. The situation is being monitored closely and Wealden is working with its partners.
- This data is as of 6th September.
- The bins strike ended on the 15th June after six weeks.
- It was followed up by several weeks of catching up during which some further delays were experienced.
- Normal waste services resumed from the 1st August.
- The two year pay deal reached between the Waste Contractor, Biffa, and its employees will have no impact on Council Tax bills. What Wealden pays for the service is fixed under contract and any additional costs through increased rates of pay is Biffa’s responsibility.
- In recognition of the disruption during the strike the Council has frozen the cost of its Garden Waste Collection Service until July 2024. The new garden waste service year started on the 1st August and those who have not re-subscribed are asked to do so online or through the Contact Centre.
- The Local Plan remains ‘paused’ pending government direction on planning reform and housing numbers. However Wealden remains committed to producing a plan in the coming weeks/months.
- Development Management – Wealden has lost three recent appeals (Station Road, Mornings Mill and Hindsland) and feels it must collectively learn the lessons from these decisions. Both in how it makes decisions under the current planning system and to redouble its efforts to seek reform.
- Wealden is on track to launch the community lottery in the New Year and is keen to encourage community groups to take part and benefit. Details will be provided nearer the time.
Councillor Cooper said Willingdon and Jevington Parish Council would like to thank Wealden for all its help and support with the planning application for the Hindsland.
It was also noted that;
- Lee Rowley has been serving as the Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Housing since September 2022.
- An interim Local Plan can be introduced or the existing Plan can be extended over a longer period of time if need be. The consultation period can also be extended.
- Wealden is continuing to agitate the government to get the housing numbers reduced. It is also pressing Southern Water to include a detrimental analysis and a report on the capability of its piping system when it responds to planning applications.
- South East Water are also statutory consultees.
7. Overdevelopment in Wealden
Councillor Sambrook read from Councillor Mikelis’ report which was as follows;
‘Following WDALC’s agreement at its 2022 AGM to receive its own Working Group the Chiddingly Parish Council’s Working Group Against Over-Development (WGOD), the group held its 19th Meeting on the 27th July and its 20th Meeting on the 8th September.
The Working Group elected Councillor Nikos Mikelis, Chairman of Chiddingly Parish Council as its Chairman for a term of one year, and Councillor Geoffrey Sambrook, Chairman of Isfield Parish Council as its Vice Chairman. Also Chiddingly Parish Council at its meeting of the 13th July agreed to continue hosting the Group’s webpage for the foreseeable future.
On the 18th July, following the letters exchanged between the Group and the Rt. Hon. Stuart Andrew MP, ex-Minister of State for Housing, six members of the Group had a meeting with the Rt. Hon. Maria Caulfield MP. The Group and the MP agreed that the standard method of calculating the housing needs of Local Planning Authorities produces perverse results, especially in the South East. The MP welcomed the work of the WGOD and concluded on an optimistic note that ‘promises that have been made [by the government] in the last few weeks’.
The Working Group next requested to meet the group of four MPs that cover our District (Nus Ghani, Maria Caulfield, Huw Merriman and Caroline Ansell).
Also, the Working Group has set up the Support Group under the Chairmanship of Councillor Alison Dunbar-Dempsey, Vice Chair of Chalvington with Ripe Parish Council. The Support Group has drafted a document to introduce itself to Wealden Councils. Its purpose is to offer general guidance to any councils in Wealden when confronted with a planning application that would lead to overdevelopment.
The Working Group has maintained contact with the Plumpton Group (a similar group of 11 councils in Lewes District that oppose overdevelopment) with the aim to have our campaign replicated in other parts of the South East.
The Group has also realised that it needs to be making a concerted effort on a press campaign to support our initiatives. Therefore a person is needed to be in charge of a press campaign and possibly of a campaign in social media. None of the members of the Working Group appear to be able to fulfil this role, and the Group has agreed to seek a suitable volunteer to be co-opted in that role from another Wealden district Parish Council.
The Group has agreed to seek a meeting with the Leadership of Wealden District Council to discuss the new Local Plan, Southern Water, the situation with Appeals, amd other relevant matters.
The Group was notified of the formal support of its initiatives by Polegate Town Council, this being the 41st of the 42 councils to have done so.
8. Reports from Outside Meetings
Councillor Stevens reported that;
- One of NALC’s main priorities at the moment is Civility and Respect and it has launched a pledge for Parish and Town Councils to sign up to. It is also looking into the Cost of Living Crisis and will be setting up a webpage for member councils so they can share information about the projects they are undertaking.
- He attended the recent Labour Party Conference. The Shadow Ministers supported everything NALC is pushing for. His colleague attended the Conservative Party Conference. The Liberal Democrats Conference was cancelled because it fell within the official mourning period.
9: Sussex Day
This was deferred until the next meeting to allow councillors time to think of ideas.
10. Next Association Meeting: Councillors agreed to invite a representative from Southern Water and/or South East Water to the next Association Meeting to answer questions they have.
At the request of members the next Association Meeting will be held on the on 18th January 2023 via Zoom. Where possible meetings will alternate between virtual and face to face.
There were no further questions and this meeting ended at 8.25pm.