Annual Report 2020-2021

1. Introduction:  

Owing to the ongoing pandemic restrictions, the Town Council is unable, for a second year, to hold a public meeting, known as the Annual Assembly, to account to constituents for its performance over the last year. Consequently, this Annual Report is being published on the Council’s website www.churchstretton-tc.gov.uk and in the April edition of Stretton Focus.

Constituents who wish to attend the Annual Assembly on Thursday April 22nd at 7.00pm and/or to ask any questions in relation to the Annual Report, or to raise any other issues, are invited to notify the Town Council no later than Tuesday April 20th. They will then be sent a Zoom invitation to the meeting, where all notified questions and issues will be addressed.

You are invited to contact the Town Council, by emailing admin@churchstretton-tc.gov.uk or phoning 01694 722113. 

2. Chairman’s Report: 

This has been a most challenging year for the Council in a number of ways, primarily, of course, because of the successive lockdowns. These have meant that the Council has held all Council meetings on Zoom, with only a few members of the public in remote attendance. 

Pandemic Response

During the first lockdown, the Council sought to play a co-ordinating role in bringing together remotely, representatives of the Medical Practice, Police, Shropshire Council and volunteer community agencies such as Mayfair, Good Neighbours, St. Laurence Food Bank, Rotary and the Masonic Lodges, with links also to essential shops. This brought together professional and voluntary help, allowing voluntary funds to be channelled appropriately. The community rallied round magnificently with many younger residents volunteering to undertake the more risky deliveries of food and medicines to those who were vulnerable, allowing older volunteers to offer support by email and phone. 

Temporary emergency traffic arrangements were put in place by Shropshire Council in June, primarily to allow social distancing on the High Street.  The Community-Led Plan Steering Group has been monitoring the reaction to these changes to inform possible permanent changes in the future. The update report from the Chairman of The Community-Led Planning Group is appended to this Annual Report.

With the easing of the first lockdown, the town experienced a surge of visitors from across the country, Carding Mill Valley being one of the national beauty spots proving most popular.  The Council liaised closely with the National Trust, the Police and Shropshire Council in seeking to minimise the threat of cross-infection to this community.  The Council part-funded a trial Shuttle Service to link with an overflow car park. This will continue this year, taking into account the continuing increase in staycationing. Local residents have generally complied with the restrictions, helping to keep the local level of infections low, as compared to other parts of the county.  However, sadly, there have still been a small number of deaths. 

Staffing

Unfortunately, the Council has been without a full-time Town Clerk for the whole of this year, because it was only in January of this year that all of the necessary procedures were completed to allow Danny Chetwood to retire due to ill-health.   The Town Council is sorry to be deprived of his services in this unfortunate way but grateful for his contribution to the work of the Council.  In January 2020, the Council was able to recruit Chris Maclean as interim part-time Clerk.  It is hoped to have a new Town Clerk in place by the summer.

The Council congratulates our Amenities Officer, Michael Turner, on his promotion to a post in another Town Council in October of last year.  The incoming Clerk will be involved in recruiting new team members.

Finance  

Amidst all of these staff changes, the Council has undertaken a thorough overhaul of its accounting systems and processes.  The Council is indebted to our Deputy Town Clerk and Responsible Finance Officer, Beverley Clarke, for her professionalism in completing this task. 

The lockdowns have significantly reduced the Council’s income from the hiring out of its facilities.  However, the lockdowns have also impeded the Council’s maintenance programme. In recognition of the fact that the pandemic has caused financial difficulties for some constituents, the Council has not sought any increase in the local Council Tax in the coming year.

Council Elections on May 6th

The final challenge for the Council will be to conduct the Town Council Elections on May 6th, when some pandemic restrictions are expected still to be in force.  It is hoped that there will be a range of candidates from which constituents can choose to take on the responsibility of enabling our community to recover and adapt after this pandemic.

Thanks

I am grateful to Councillors, Tree Wardens and our Council staff for the way they have adapted to cope with this year’s challenges.

Cllr. Bob Welch, 
Council Chairman and Mayor

3. Report of Amenities, Finance and General Purposes Committee

Amenities

The past year has been operationally difficult for our staff managing our various amenities, with the various restrictions resulting in them being closed for much of the time. Nevertheless, a comprehensive survey of all the trees on Council land is under way to determine future maintenance priorities. An updating survey of the Council’s other recreational areas is informing ongoing maintenance work. A third survey of all the streetlights, for which the Council is responsible, has revealed a number of ageing concrete columns in need of replacement.  They will be progressively replaced by aluminium columns, fitted with more efficient LED lighting.  The Council was one of the first, back in 2012, to switch off streetlights in the overnight hours, resulting in significant savings in both costs and carbon emissions.

Silvester Horne Institute

The Institute has been closed for most of 2020, apart from a brief period between the end of

September to early November, when Zumba, Yoga, Freestyle Martial Arts and

Indoor Bowling were active with social distancing and the Quakers were able to meet in the Hall. SHI Music Events have been suspended since the Autumn but they will, hopefully, resume in October. The Council received a grant of £10,000 from the Covid-19 Local Restrictions Support Grant Scheme and hopes for a further grant to compensate for the loss of income. The lockdown, combined with the weather, has also delayed the necessary repairs to the SHI roof and drains. 

The Market Square

In the first lockdown, the essential food stallholders transferred briefly to the Easthope Road car park but have since gone back to the Square, with Council Officers stressing to both stall-holders and customers the need for social distancing and the wearing of face masks. Two charity events in the Square: the Rotary Club’s Fixed Bicycle Ride and the Christmas Card sale went ahead in the autumn.

Christmas Lights

There was unfortunately no Christmas Light Switch-On event or Christmas Party but the Lights and Rotary’s Tree of Light brought a little festive cheer, as did the traders’ small Christmas trees, aided by public donations.   However, the Council apologises that the Christmas Lights on Sandford Avenue malfunctioned.  This has prompted a thorough review with a view to installing new and alternative lights in future.

Rectory Wood and Field and Coppice Leasowes

The registration of Rectory Wood & Field as our second Nature Reserve, after Coppice Leasowes, has been proceeding, allowing the Council to apply to Shropshire Council for delegated powers.  These nature conservation areas are now complemented by Cudwell Meadow, south of the town.  This has been purchased by the Middle Marches Community Land Trust, thanks to generous local donations, so that it can be developed as a wetland habitat. Local Wildlife Trust volunteers have also upgraded the boardwalk across the adjacent wetland area.

The two volunteer Interest Groups, who help to manage these assets, are meeting together on a trial basis.  However, in the last year, they have been confined to Zoom meetings with little scope for practical activity.  Janet Martin, the Group Chairman, acknowledges that the Site Management contract with Shropshire Council, supplemented by the work of the Council’s Outdoor Team, has been invaluable during the lockdowns. Thanks to a Focus Grant, the footpath across Coppice Leasowes from Watling Street North to the A49 will be improved. Permission has been given for the Tree Group to plant over 300 saplings in Rectory Wood and Field, as part of a re-wilding strategy. In August, Rectory Field was the scene for a successful open air rehearsal of Macbeth by Stretton Players to a socially distanced audience of fifty.

Sandford Avenue Recreation Ground

The combination of Covid restrictions and inclement weather has much curtailed the activity of the Bowls, Croquet and Tennis Clubs. The Council was pleased to support the initiative of Tom Rochester and his volunteer group, taking advantage of a metal skate park being offered free by Telford & Wrekin Council. The opening of the skatepark has unfortunately been delayed by the lock-down preventing the completion of the installation and the necessary safety inspection.

The Council is committed to upgrading the facilities in the Recreation Ground. It would like to see the cost of maintaining the facilities more equitably shared between those who use the facilities and local council taxpayers. A task group of Councillors issued a community on-line survey to gather residents’ views on what facilities they would like to see in the Recreation Ground. The feedback from that survey will inform a masterplan to be developed in the coming year, with the aid of a development consultancy.

Cllr. Mike Walker,
Chairman of Amenities,
Finance & General Purposes Committee

4. Report of Planning, Conservation & Heritage Committee:

Planning Applications

During the year, the members of the Planning Committee and the Tree Warden team have processed 144 planning applications, 111 of these after the beginning of April, following the imposition of restrictions, following the first lockdown. Planning Committee members had to adjust their way of working as visiting sites was no longer possible, using instead on-line technology. The Committee held regular virtual meetings and kept in touch by email.  One planning application that was granted during the year was for a scheme of two detached dwellings and two pairs of semi- detached houses on Lutwyche Road, providing much needed affordable social housing. 

Consultations on Draft Local Development Plan

A great deal of time has been taken up with work on submissions to the Shropshire Council’s consultations on the Draft Local Plan. In August, the Committee produced a draft submission for Council on the Regulation 18 Pre-submission Draft of the Local Plan, this was approved by the Town Council in September. In the submission it was strongly argued that the Snatchfield site should be withdrawn, as it failed the tests for major development in the AONB and would not be in the public interest. It was heartening to note that the AONB has been given much more weight in planning terms, with the new policy DP26, (now DP24) providing more protection for the national designation. The Town Council was pleased that, following strong opposition by many groups and individuals in the town, the proposal for the Snatchfields site was withdrawn.

In December, work began on the Town Council’s submission to the consultation on the Regulation 19 Pre-Submission Draft Local Plan, with the main objection being that there is no published evidence in the Plan to support the increased windfall housing target of 121 houses, which have been allocated to the town. This number has been increased through the addition of the Snatchfields allocation of 70 houses to the original windfall target.  Having established, through its Housing Needs Survey, that there is a need for affordable housing, especially for key workers in the care sector, the Council will be seeking rural exception sites to contribute to this revised housing target.

Cllr. Hilary Claytonsmith, Chairman
Planning, Conservation & Heritage Committee

5. Report of Economic Development Committee: 

Promoting Local Economy

Because of the pandemic lockdowns, this has been a most challenging year for the local economy. Essential food shops have gone to great lengths both to provide a safe shopping environment, as well as organising home deliveries of food and medicines. Additional free food deliveries have been made by the St. Laurence Food Bank. 

The Council is pleased that local traders and accommodation providers have now formed a Visit Church Stretton Community Interest Company to promote the town, using the www.churchstretton.co.uk domain name, loaned from the Council. Through the use of videos and social media, it is hoped that this new website will encourage the many first-time visitors to the area in the last year to come again. To assist local shops, the Police have funded a pioneering Smartwater security system as a deterrent against shoplifting and Shropshire Council has provided a small Recovery Grant.

Responding to Shropshire Council Consultations

The Committee has also drafted the Council’s response to the ambitious Vibrant Shropshire Culture Strategy of Shropshire Council and discussions are continuing, as part of the work of the Community-Led Planning Group work, on how the wide range of cultural activities in the town can be drawn together as a further attraction to visitors. 

In response to the consultation on the Indoor Leisure Services Strategy of Shropshire Council, the Town Council has argued strongly that residents in smaller towns should not be unfairly disadvantaged, relative to the larger towns in the county, so as to be able to retain such facilities as the Library and Leisure Centre. In similar vein, in its response to the Community and Rural Strategy of Shropshire Council, the Council has welcomed the commitment to work in a more devolved and collaborative way with Town and Parish Councils.

Youth Work

Following a Youth Survey eighteen months ago, the Council committed to funding more provision for youngsters. This has unfortunately had to be delayed by a year, owing to the pandemic. 

Future Challenges

Following up on the Town Council’s pledge in relation to the climate emergency, our Energy Champion, Cllr. Lyn Antill, has been researching how other councils are addressing this issue, so that this agenda informs the Council’s whole approach to conducting its business.

Thankfully, the great majority of more vulnerable residents have now been vaccinated, assisted by having a vaccination centre at the Health & Wellbeing Centre, but it is already clear that the pandemic will have accelerated other ongoing economic changes, such as the rapid growth in on-line shopping and greatly increased working from home. The former will pose a challenge to our independent shops but the latter may mean that more home-based businesses will move into the area, benefiting our economy.     

Cllr. Bob Welch,
Chairman of the Economic
Development Committee

6. Community Led Plan Progress Report

Logo of the Community Led Plan group

No sooner had the results of the Residents’ Survey come in (in March 2020) than the country entered into lockdown. The intention to hold public meetings had to be put aside, and the Steering Group had to explore new forms of communication. We have zoomed into a different format, which, despite limitations, has allowed the Group to keep working at the priorities identified by residents.

The Group has dug deeper into the opinions expressed and the preferences, and established working groups to take things further. As a result, reports on Transport, the Environment, and the Town Centre are already available on the CLP website www.strettonsclp.org.uk , alongside the results of the Survey itself. There are also interim reports on Arts and Culture, and Faith and Values.

A highlight of the year was the exceptional work done by the Primary School, where the younger members of our community produced a large folder of work, outlining their own thoughts and wishes for the future. A summary is also available on the website.

Work is ongoing on Community Facilities, Housing, Arts and Culture, and Health and Social Care, though the latter has been hampered – inevitably – by the pressures on affected parties in dealing with the pandemic.

The Steering Group is well aware that – post-Covid – our community will change, both economically and socially, and the final Plan will have to take account of what is, at the moment, an uncertain and evolving landscape. But we travel hopefully, buoyed by the visible strength of community feeling and engagement, and recognising the commitment and hard work of Steering Group members.

     David Howard,
Chairman of Community-Led
Planning Steering Group

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