Longfield & New Barn Parish Council Annual Meeting of Parishioners for May 2021.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
N.B. A financial report shall be presented at the Parish Annual meeting and published later via the Parish website and notice boards.