A Most Entertaining Meeting

Our online Burcot and Clifton Hampden Parish Council meetings have been sensational in recent months, and anyone who cares about the future of this area should try to attend if they can, as important issues are being discussed. From this month onwards, government regulations mean that they will have to take place in public and not online.

In the meantime, let’s just recap what happened at the last one, held online on Monday 26th April. About 15-20 people took part, including several of the incumbent councillors. The PC chair, Chris Neill, was very keen to point out that despite seats being uncontested at the last election, the PC members were not unelected, but “elected unopposed”. I guess we can let him have this point, although he might want to reflect on the number of votes he and the others obtained (ie zero!). And despite a search, I have been unable to find details of the call for candidates at the last election in 2019. If anyone has them, please forward them on to this website.

The meeting kicked off with an introduction from the Public Power Solutions solar farm company – owned by Swindon Borough Council – that wants to build a huge solar farm and battery storage complex on Green Belt land at Burcot Farm, just outside the village. Parishioners asked numerous questions about the logic of choosing a Green Belt site, the safety of the tonnes of potentially dangerous lithium-ion batteries that will be located on the site, the possibility of damage to a highly important Roman villa buried beneath the site, deer fences (“deer are not compatible with solar farms”, we were told), wildlife corridors in general and other issues. No-one spoke in favour.

Oddly, the PPS representative seemed to be of the opinion that 14 of those who spoke at a recent online consultation meeting on 1st April were against the development, whereas 11 were supportive or ‘don’t knows’. My recollection is that almost everyone, bar a couple of local landowners, were against. It only highlights the problems that occur when firms carry out their own assessments of consultations. We have the same problem with the proposed NDO housing development in the village, where the housebuilder selected for the project is assessing the forms that some people filled in as part of a similar ‘consultation’ exercise. Do we think they are likely to be independent? Hmmm.

Anyway, back to the PC meeting. Asked about the annual parish meeting that the PC is legally obliged to hold once a year, Chris Neill said that it was a confusing situation and that they would “probably” hold one after the end of June i.e. outside the legally required timeframe. One attendee, who chairs another PC, asked why this was the case and noted that his own PC had recently successfully held its annual  parish meeting. The same person also asked about whether or not due notice had been given of the PC meeting itself, pointing out that nothing had appeared on village notice boards until the Friday before the meeting, thus making it illegal. He also questioned the absence of proper minutes and agendas. Various feeble excuses were made by PC members and then, rather abruptly, the PC chair decided to close the meeting!

Was this a ‘first’ in parish council history? A meeting abandoned because it was illegal! There is a strong suspicion that many recent PC meetings were also illegal, in that insufficient notice was given and minutes and agendas were not made available to the public in a timely fashion. All of this, of course, will be put in front of the inspector who comes to adjudicate on the Neighbourhood Development Order that the PC is seeking to push through, despite considerable opposition. The inspector may also want to consider how an under-strength PC – officially recognised as ‘small’ – that has no councillors from the majority Burcot part of the parish – can in any way represent the views of the community, as required under the legislation. This is despite vacancies and offers by Burcot residents to stand in a by-election, to ensure the majority part of the parish can be represented. Sadly, this offer has been rejected by the PC. Watch this space for more developments . . . .

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The Parish Council Annual General Meeting has been scheduled for Thursday 6th May. It is being billed as a continuation of the previous (illegal) meeting, which seems dubious to me. Please contact the clerk if you would like to attend. There is also a legal requirement to hold an annual Parish Meeting before the end of May.

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