Last Chance Saloon (… or the pub?) as Parish begins fight to stave off abolition
On Tuesday evening you get a choice of entertainment: you can either pop along to The Ostrich’s Screaming Blue Murder Comedy Club and listen to three world class acts making amusing anecdotes about topical events, or you can go to the Village Hall and watch twelve less so celebrious individuals do the same.
Tuesday sees not just the normal meeting of the Parish Council but also the Annual Parish Meeting, and the Annual Parish Council Meeting. Confused? Blame the 1894 Local Government Act, one of many archaic laws that still governs (or hides) most of what parish councils do.
The Annual Parish Meeting is meant to be an opportunity for residents to come together to discuss matters of common interest, while the Annual Parish Council Meeting is the occasion to elect a chairman and committee members. In practice, bar a 1 or 2 minute interval, they are one and the same.
The Parish corrected its calendar a few days ago which had been showing for a fortnight that the Annual Meeting had been and gone. Some may have wished it had been left as it was, including serving councillors. The Annual Meeting, normally a dry affair, typically hears a long list of the year’s achievements presented with a spin that would make you dizzy, and this year’s will be no different.
We can expect to hear about the Colnbrook Games, the new bench at the Brands Hill bus stop, and the possibility of a tennis court in Pippins Park (what do you mean, that’s worth EVERY penny of its £101,000 spend last year).
We will probably also hear it claim association with successful social events run by the CRA, the CCA’s youth initiative, the CCP’s Green Flags, and SBC’s improvements to Poyle Road.
If the tedious format imposed by statute explains the lack of turnout – 2012 was a high point with 8 members of the public, while in 2009 nobody turned up – this year it could attract a bigger crowd. A lot has happened since last May, even if achievements have been light.
The first since the Community Governance Review concluded the Parish wasn’t engaging and gave it until just 2015 to up its game, residents may expect a rigorous defence from Chair Peter Hood. 9 months since Heathrow published its expansion proposals and 5 months since the Davies Commission shortlist, they may also expect him to explain, why Colnbrook remains the only community not to have held a public meeting about the Third Runway threat.
Those affected by the disastrous flooding in February may also want to use the meeting to demand why the Parish didn’t do more to help. It was criticised for not using its £70,000 of reserves to assist with sandbags, and why there were no reports to residents on the outcome of numerous meetings we were told were happening between SBC, the EA, and other groups. Cllr Hood told the Slough Express recently that Slough had apologised for its “lack of communication”. Watch out perhaps for an apology from the Parish Council at the Meeting?
While the flooding may have caught everybody by surprise (ignoring 2001, 2003, 2007, and 2009 of course), the same cannot be said for other environmental issues facing the village.
With air quality hitting unprecedented levels a month ago as Saharan dust locked in locally produced particulates the Parish may be asked what it is doing here. While it has no statutory powers over air quality it may be asked explain its lack of objection to a second incinerator at Colnbrook Lakeside in September. Thankfully DHL’s application is still not decided by Slough. Could the Parish could be persuaded to do a u-turn? Remember, Cllr Smith also sits on the Planning Committee so is well placed to lobby for this to be rejected (and it is election year).
And, given its uncomfortably close relationship with Grundon, it may be asked to enlighten residents on what steps it is taking to addressing the situation itself with the incinerator operator? Likewise, when it accepted Lanz’s donation towards its Colnbrook Games in July while simultaneously raising no objection to Lanz’s retrospective application to bring 1,000 tonnes more rubbish to process in Poyle, it could be asked to explain how it has managed to avoid a conflict of interests?
At previous Annual Meetings the Parish has angrily brushed off the closeness of its relationship to the big local polluters since, technically, that’s the Colnbrook Community Partnership. But with new Cllr Akram joining the CCP trustees (all current or former parish councillors) it is surely only a matter of time before the Parish take steps to democratise the CCP. Will the Parish announce the introduction of much needed local representation and accountability and finally allow residents a say in how the proceeds of Landfill Tax is spent in their name? That would be worth attending for, no?
This year’s Annual Meeting should be the last for outspoken parish clerk Roland Hewson, from St Albans, before his retirement next year. No doubt parishioners will be given an update on the progress of recruiting his replacement, along with its strive towards achieving Quality Parish Council status. As the Parish lurches back to the days when all councillors were appointed without election (two third is the minimum criteria for Quality status) maybe the Parish will tell us why it didn’t use its influence to defer co-option of its two new councillors until the May elections. Even an informal by-election could have been held in conjunction with the Local Election if it was genuinely interested in reaching out.
The two community groups this year have organised fantastic events, raised independent funds, lobbied hard for residents, and co-operated, while at the same time being more democratic and costing nothing. With the Parish facing the threat of abolition next year, maybe we can expect to see the Parish announce a repositioning of itself under less divisive leadership in an effort to recapture the steadfast support it once held?
But if the prospect of any of that feels just too feint or depressing after a gorgeous bank holiday weekend, there’s always the Screaming Blue Murder across the street to take your mind off it all. £8.50 on the door or £5.50 if you’re eating beforehand. Click here to book online.