Annual Parish Report from the Parish Council Chairman

Longfield & New Barn Parish Council Annual Meeting of Parishioners for May 2021.

Chairman’s report:

The past eighteen months has been a period many people could not have envisaged. The Covid pandemic has changed the way we go about our daily lives in ways, and it caused the cancellation of our annual meeting in 2020.

Over the past year we have had to hold Parish Council meetings on-line, a method we would prefer not to use, but one which was necessary. We hope to return to face-to-face meetings in late June this year and as always members of the public are always welcome to attend.

Parish Council activities:

The most prominent activity has been the restoration of Long Valley Hall (more on that in a moment).

The council upgraded a large number of street-light’s in the Longfield and New Barn area in 2020-21 while repairing others.

In addition, we employ a ‘litter-picker’ who has worked hard during the pandemic to keep the amount of litter as low as possible. There was an increase in litter during the period with face masks, gloves, and wet wipes an additional health hazard.

There have always been concerns about the pressure of development in and around the Parish and I know concerns are bound to rise as a result of proposals just across our border in Gravesham. I can reassure you that Dartford Borough Council takes a very different approach to neighbouring authorities to meet housing demand and continues to offer maximum protection to the green belt and rural communities.  Critically, DBC has allocated sufficient land for development in the Borough’s urban and town centres which affords great protection to other areas.  Over time, I think our approach has been recognised as the right one and when even the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) commends our approach I hope it provides reassurance to this parish and other rural communities.

Sadly, we had to cancel the Longfield Festivals for 2020 and 2021, but we hope to have one in the future.

The Long Valley Community Hall:

The work on the Community Hall is now nearing completion. The renovation and repairs have taken a significant amount of time due to the complexity of the issue, and the fact that at one point in the project it seemed that every day brought a fresh set of discoveries left behind when the Hall was built decades ago.  The discovery of a car chassis among the foundations was a particular memory!

In truth, much of your investment in the Hall has been spent on the rather unglamorous business of securing the building from further subsidence and ensuring it is structurally sound for another fifty years of community activity.  Even so, the Hall will be modern, fresh and better designed when it re-opens this Summer.

This was a £500k project which is a big commitment for a small Parish, but a combination of prudent saving and a £200k loan from the Governments Public Work Board (PWLB) at a very advantageous rate means that parishioners will see no impact on their precept (local tax). History suggests that as we recover from the pandemic, hire fees from the hall will more than cover its operating costs and loan repayment.   Retaining the hall as a valuable community asset was a big priority, as the local consultation results made clear.

 

In addition, I provided £25k from the Kent County Council Member’s Fund, and we obtained a small lottery grant of £10k towards sealing the hall’s roof for the next 20 years.  There is no doubt that renovating the Hall was the right choice – to replace the hall would have cost three times this amount.

In addition, we are in a position in which we did not have to increase the Parish Community Charge. This has remained the same for a number of years now.

Allotments:

We currently have 100% occupancy of the 72 allotments across our sites in Whitehill Road and Nurstead Lane. There is also a waiting list with about 12 persons awaiting an allotment.

Parking:

The issue of parking in Longfield, especially along main Road receded during the pandemic, but we are mindful this may re-appear post pandemic, and I can assure parishioners we will deal with this matter via liaison with KCC and DBC.

Planning:

Although the Parish Council does not determine planning applications, it has an important role as a consultee, and I am indebted to Catherine Stafford and members of the Parish Council’s planning committee who consider applications in detail before making recommendations to each full Parish Council. Like all rural and semi-rural communities, the challenge is to strike a balance between supporting property and landowners to make reasonable adaptions, extensions and improvements to properties to ensure they can adapt to meet modern needs but standing firm against inappropriate applications that threaten the character of local neighbourhoods. The planning committee work hard to manage that balance.

Local Business Covid Support:

As a small Parish Council with limited resources we perhaps could not keep up with the billions of pounds of economic support provided by Westminster but an idea from one of our Members, Paul Denman, and support from other Parish Councillors saw us launch our own small fund to help village businesses face the costs of helping their premises and services remain Covid safe.  The amounts were relatively small, but I know the gesture was well appreciated.

Parish Councillors:

In a year when the chaotic proceedings at one Handforth Parish Council Zoom meeting went viral and attracted millions of views, I should just offer sincere thanks to all our councillors – particularly the Deputy Chairman Steve Brown for helping Longfield & New Barn Parish Council remain friendly, productive, and collaborative.  We are the smallest tier of England’s local government but the one that in many ways is closest to rural and semi-rural communities like ours.

I will close by expressing huge thanks to our amazing Parish Clerk, Mike Morgan, who makes an enormous contribution to everything we do and to life in our community.

Jeremy Kite,
Parish Chairman

 

N.B. A financial report shall be presented at the Parish Annual meeting and published later via the Parish website and notice boards.

Annual Meeting & Parish Meeting Tues 25th May 2021 at 7:00pm

The Annual Longfield & New Barn Parish Meeting shall be held on Tuesday the 25th May at 7:00pm. This will be immediately followed by the May Monthly Parish Meeting.

Due to the on-going Covid regulations and the lack of a suitable location, the Parish Council has agreed, (after seeking advice from the National and Kent Association of Local Councils); to continue with an on-line ‘Zoom’ meeting on the 25th May.

It is hoped to return to face-to-face meetings in late June 2021.

If you wish to attend either the Annual Parish meeting or the Monthly Parish meeting which will follow on from the Annual meeting, please contact the Parish Clerk on either Tel: 01474 707290 or e-mail longfieldparishcouncil@btconnect.com

Agendas can be downloaded from the Meetings and Agendas Page of the Parish Council website.

Thank you.

 

Long Valley Hall re-opening date

It was hoped the Long Valley Hall would re-open in early to mid June 2021 with hiring after that date. However, due to delays in materials and supply chains this has possibly been delayed to early July. We apologise for the delay, but this is due to Covid affecting production of materials and supply chains.

The internal fixtures and fittings are currently being fitted and the new windows and doors, plus redecoration will follow. The walls and roof have been insulated and sound-proofed and the stage and cupboards replaced.

The images below show the current state of works in mid-April 2021.

Fly-Tipping Poster

Fly Tipping Poster

Council Tax 2021-2022

The Parish Council has agreed a budget that will see a 0% increase in the Longfield & New Barn Parish Council precept for the coming year.

In addition, Dartford Borough Council have also agreed a 0% increase.

However, it is believed there may be an increase in the Kent County Council costs due to the need to increase funding for social care.

Public Consultation on Long Valley Hall refurbishment now closed

The public consultation and survey on the refurbishment of Long Valley Hall in Longfield has now closed. The results are attached…

Temporary closure of Fawkham Avenue for works

Temporary Road Closure – Fawkham AvenueLongfield – 30th November 2020 for 5 days

Fawkham AvenueLongfield will be closed outside number 15.

The alternative route is Fawkham Avenue, New Barn Road, Longfield Avenue, Nurstead Avenue and vice versa.

The closure is required for the safety of the public and workforce while works are undertaken by UK Power Networks.

For information regarding this closure please contact UK Power Networks, who will able to assist with the scope of these works.

 

Long Valley Hall refurbishment Public report and consultation results

Longfield’s Long Valley Hall and the community park that surrounds it have served this community for more than 50 years. In that time the hall has hosted thousands of parties, events, classes, fairs, markets and meetings. The Community Park has been enjoyed by local people as a place for sport, walking, recreation and outdoor events for decades.

The Hall is not just of huge social and community value. It is also a commercial success. Before lockdown, the hall was extremely busy with local groups, organisations, clubs and markets operating almost every day. The rental income created a surplus every year, helping us to keep the Parish Precept (local council tax) at a low level. Hirers are very keen for the hall to reopen and we are confident that usage will quickly return to normal.

There’s no doubt that all this activity has taken a toll on the hall and, for some years, the Parish Council’s routine maintenance and cosmetic repairs have been fighting a ‘losing battle’ with the hall’s underlying condition. The hall was not built on good foundations and significant subsidence and weaknesses have developed in recent years. Hall users will have noticed cracks in walls and damage to floors as the structure deteriorates. The Parish Council has managed these issues responsibly – commissioning structural surveys at intervals to provide a view of the Hall’s condition – but in 2019 a report gave a clear indication that the Hall’s working life was nearing an end without major intervention.

In considering the way forward, the Parish Council had three main options.

1. Do nothing. If the Council continued to provide only routine maintenance the 2019 report concluded that the Hall’s underlying structural condition could lead to its permanent closure in two to three years. Closure would not only end the Hall’s contribution to the community but also impact the thriving Social Club which holds a sub-lease on a part of the building fronting Fawkham Road.

2. Carry out the structural and foundation works needed to stabilise the Hall and embark on a full refurbishment and modernisation of the facility. The cost of this proposal is estimated at £0.5million

3. Build a brand-new hall. A nice option and one that the Parish Council considered. However, the cost of a simple ‘like-for-like’ replacement was estimated at more than £1.5-2 million. Building an improved, modern building with new facilities could push the cost much higher.

The Parish Council concluded that the stabilisation and refurbishment route offered both the best value for money and the opportunity to refurbish the hall to a high standard. The stabilisation and groundworks required have proved to be considerable but would have been required whether the Hall was to be refurbished or rebuilt from scratch. The refurbishment provides an opportunity to create a modern, airy, attractively clad and energy-efficient community facility. It will provide a greatly improved environment for hirers and visitors alike.
Without dismantling the Hall, non-invasive surveys conducted in recent years could not provide a full assessment of the foundations and ground conditions that lay beneath. As work to stabilise the Hall got underway this year, the scale of the problem was fully exposed. The foundations of the Hall had been constructed on filled-land comprising inconsistent, loose and poor-quality material (Remnants of a vintage car chassis were discovered in one location!) . At each step, additional piling and supporting groundworks were necessary leading to the final cost of the project likely to be at the top-end of our £0.5million estimate.

The Council had been building reserves for some years to provide a significant contribution to the project’s funding but always accepted that additional grant or loan funding might be required.

It is proposed to seek borrowing approval from the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government to take out a loan from the Public Works Loan Board (PWLB) in the sum of £200,000 to complete the stabilisation and total refurbishment of Long Valley Hall, which would be paid back over 20 years. Once completed, our village Hall will be well placed to meet the needs of our community for many years to come.

The Parish Council has accessed funding from the PWLB to provide community facilities before. A previous loan to fund new play spaces has now been fully repaid and the Parish Council is free from any borrowing commitments.

You will be interested to know how a loan from the PWLB will affect you as a parishioner and as a precept payer. It is not intended to increase the council tax precept for the purpose of the loan repayments.

Our Parish Council has always been managed prudently and precept rises kept low. We intend that to continue. The Parish Council has recently completed repayments on a previous loan from the Board which releases some capacity in our existing budget. Historically, the Hall has always produced a net surplus of income over expenses and this surplus would be more than enough to meet new repayments. The impact of Covid-19 has meant no income for more than 8 months so the Parish Council proposes to hold a reserve equivalent to no less than one year’s repayments to ensure that early instalments can be met without any change to the Parish precept ( local tax ) .

It is important that we seek your views on our proposal. Parish Councillors are determined that the Long Valley Hall should continue to serve as a community asset rather than be lost or fall to alternative development pressure, but we need to be sure that parishioners feel that way too.

The structural issues related to the hall were embedded at the time of its construction and it falls to today’s generation of parishioners to put them right. Parish Councillors propose to safeguard the Long Valley Hall and prepare it for a new generation of users.

Further details can be obtained from the Parish Clerk on 01474 707290 or at the Parish Office at Long Valley Hall. E-mail Longfieldparishcouncil@btconnect.com

A public consultation and survey have now closed and details are posted below…….

Newsletter Summer 2020

The Longfield and New Barn Parish Council have issued their latest newsletter. This includes updated and details of the current Long Valley Hall renovation/refurbishment work.

 

Parish Meeting

On-Line Parish Council Meeting:

There will be an on-line council meeting on Tuesday 22nd Sept. at 7:00pm. This is on-line due to social distancing measures still being in place.

If any member of the public wishes to join the meeting they should contact the Clerk on 01474 707290 or via e:mail longfieldparishcouncil@btconnect.com by 9am on Tuesday he 22nd Sept.

Thank you.