The first thing to report is the sudden loss last year of our Clerk, Di Dann, who not unreasonably felt she had to leave to tend to her dying daughter. Our condolences go out to her in these tragic circumstances. Her place has been taken by Louise Stevens who is getting to grips with the job admirably. Since Louise started there has barely been a dull moment: early December brought us the biggest surge tide in sixty years which battered the beach – and in a couple of places broke clean through – and flooded the bird reserve and the Blakeney Freshes. It also flooded several properties on the Coast Road that weren’t sand bagged. Part of the post flood haggling is likely to be how best to protect these properties in the future and how to spend the £5000 carrots being dangled by the government.
One of the results of the flood was the closure of the A149 between Cley and Salthouse for a couple of weeks. Hardly had it reopened when it was closed again following the crash of an American Pave Hawk helicopter onto the reserve with the tragic loss of the four aircrew on board. The road remained closed while the salvage work was carried out. Our condolences to the bereaved families
Highways: the Highway engineers have finally rebuilt the wall that supports the south end of Church Lane and the road is open once more after a closure lasting almost fourteen months. The result is not pretty but should do the job – cosmetic treatment is up to the church or English Heritage. Other road works include the digging up of New Road – fortunately only one lane at a time – in connection with sewerage works for Anglian Water. It was lucky that the start of this work was delayed as otherwise it would have coincided with the arrival of lots of very heavy equipment from the USAF base at Lakenheath.
One other Highways matter worth a mention is that we finally have a decent surface on the road to the old Quay. This was done under a Community Partnership scheme with the Parish Council contributing £2000 to the cost of the work. It was done on the 24 March so as to avoid disrupting the work to replace the Cley Mill sails.
The Highway Rangers scheme continues to function well with the Parish able to pinpoint the work that needs to be done. On balance our roads are much better maintained than in many other parts of the country though there continue to be moans about the winter gritting programme – with the county facing swingeing cuts in government funding (£189 million in the next three years) there is no way they can expand the gritting programme.
Transport: our wonderful CoastHopper route is still carrying over half a million passengers a year, many of whom would otherwise be driving along our coast in their cars causing congestion, pollution and general havoc. The problem is that up to half of them are using pensioners’ bus passes and the government is refusing to honour its obligation to fully reimburse the bus operators for the losses incurred. As the money goes through the County councils, the NCC end up having to salami slice their subsidies to vital rural services to minimise the impact of the shortfall. Inevitably this will mean cuts in services or at least in frequency, particularly now that the excellent local bus company, Norfolk Green, has been taken over by the generally disliked Stagecoach plc. New summer timetables for 2014 have yet to be published.
Planning: applications continue to run at about two a month, not counting revisions and resubmissions, which means that the slow but steady transformation of the village from a living community into a financial commodity for footloose City money continues with predictably detrimental effects. There is little that the Parish Council can do other than struggle to pick up the pieces. Every ratcheting up of house prices makes the task even harder so it is that we find the selling off of social-rented properties by Victory Housing particularly unhelpful – yes, we know it is to fund the building of smart new properties in places like North Walsham but that is no use to us. It has been suggested that, if we can find a suitable site outside the village ‘envelope’, Victory HT with or without help from the NNDC would consider building some houses here under a section 106 exemption – which would have the added advantage of invoking the local lettings policy so the houses would be offered to Cley people first – so if anyone can offer such a site we would love to hear from them. We would probably only need about half an acre.
All the necessary permissions are in place for our work on the Quay. We are now gathering quotes prior to seeking funding. If all falls into place the work will be carried out next March. Fingers crossed. A big thank-you to Di Dann and especially to Cllr Mark Randell who have done all the hard work on this project – and it was unnecessarily hard thanks to frequent changes of personnel at the Environment Agency.
Finance: this year we have had to raise the precept by £500 to £8500 to partly offset the drop in our income when the NNDC does away with the bottle bank in a few months time – recycling credits brought in £730 last year so you can see it is too big a loss to carry at a time when demands on the Parish Council are increasing. We have already had to dip into our reserves to fund the surfacing work on the Quay road and will have legal fees in connection with the registration of the Hillside land to find later this year. As usual the largest single item in the expenses column is grounds maintenance: the Green, the Church Field, the playing field and sundry verges and hedges – the list seems to get longer every year. Full details of income and expenditure for the last financial year are in the Accounts presented at the Annual Parish Meeting.
Health: Holt First Responders have installed a defibrillator in the entrance to the Village Hall for use in case of a cardiac emergency in the vicinity. Volunteers will receive training in its use though phoned guidance could be given to the untrained if necessary
Councillors: as well as the change of Clerk, we also lost Cllr Frances Kearney who resigned during the year and was duly replaced by Cllr Tim Baker. Unfortunately this leaves us with an all-male council (Clerk excepted, of course) which is not ideal – offers to drag up will not be accepted. In the last month Cllr Scammell-Katz has also tendered his resignation as he is no longer living in the village. Is this an opportunity to address the gender imbalance?
I would just like to finish by thanking my colleagues for their contributions during the last twelve months. It has been an interesting year…