Tucked away amongst the (out of date) minutes for the parish council on the PC website, you may not have noticed the Annual Report to the Parish from our elected unopposed (with no votes) parish councillors. This is the chance for the PC to tell us all about the events of the last year and, possibly, to map the way forward for the next. Well, that’s the theory anyway. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has seriously restricted the ability of the PC to conduct its business and it seems to be in disarray; we are still waiting to be given a date for the Annual Parish Meeting, which should have been held by the end of May and PC meetings themselves have been chaotic, to say the least, with one being abandoned half-way through when it was realised that it was illegal and another that did not take place at all. Minutes have not been published since February and we sense a feeling of weariness amongst the PC members.
So let’s just recap where we are: the main preoccupation of the PC over the last year has been to use a Neighbourhood Development Order (NDO) to drive through a largely unwanted housing scheme for the centre of Clifton Hampden in a Conservation Area within the Green Belt. The PC seems to be surprised that there is opposition, saying people are spreading “misinformation” and accusing people of attacking members of the PC and the NDO steering group. That is generally known to most people as local politics. Did they think we would all roll over and let an entirely unsuitable scheme be foisted on us? We have had enough of that already, with the new by-pass, the 3,500 houses at Culham and the 1,700 houses at Berinsfield and the prospect of a solar farm at Burcot. Enough is enough.
To all intents and purposes the NDO as proposed is a money-creation scheme for the Gibbs Estate, which has announced its intention to leave the village where the family has been present in one form or another since about 1840 and which it ran for many years as a private fiefdom. It is clearly intent on maximising the value of its remaining assets. Someone realised that if they could persuade parishioners to vote for a NDO – an idiotic piece of legislation if ever there was one – then the carefully thought-out and strictly enforced regulations governing development in a Conservation Area could be trashed and that land previously zoned only for recreational use could be turned into valuable housing land for 20 or so houses.
Nine sites – including two in Burcot – were considered for the NDO by three members of a subcommittee of the PC who decided – surprise, surprise – to choose two plots that belonged to the Gibbs Estate. Never mind that at least one of those who made the decision had a private land deal – undeclared until December last year – with the Gibbs Estate to buy adjoining land if the NDO went through. Or that the chair of the PC was himself a tenant of the Gibbs Estate and therefore was subject to a conflict of interest. Never mind that the developer for the scheme was never voted on. Or that the background to the NDO land deal was the prospect of the Gibbs Estate selling its remaining holdings in the village by 2025, to the highest bidder.
These and other issues have been the subject of my previous articles and I urge you to read them to acquaint yourself with the whole sorry mess. It was all proceeding tickety-boo until a group of residents in the parish – now called the Friends of Burcot and Clifton Hampden – realised what was happening and decided to do their utmost to protect the peace and tranquillity of Clifton Hampden and question the tactics and procedures adopted by the PC and the Gibbs Estate in railroading through this farcical plan.
So let’s just take a peek at the PC’s Annual Report. First it seeks to justify the failure of the PC to co-opt anyone to fill the two vacancies that still exist, despite the fact that it was only five years ago that it applied for two extra members because its members felt they were snowed under with work. I wonder why they don’t want any more members?
We have a list of the PC’s activities over the last year, including its involvement with the NDO. It lists a very selective list of ‘benefits’ for the village. Are new allotments a benefit? We have them already, don’t we? Has the doctors’ surgery really been agreed? What precisely is the nature of the ‘investment in our school’? Isn’t that an issue for the education authority? And so on. Nothing is what it seems. Everything solid turns to air when you take a closer look. In reality, this is mostly window-dressing to cover up the fact that the Gibbs Estate wants to turn lead into gold by gaining planning permission for houses on land that is entirely unsuitable and zoned for conservation. As I have said before, why don’t the Gibbs family do the decent thing and hand over these little bits of land to the village? Are they content to wreck the village just to make a quick buck?
The sainted Christopher Gibbs, the flamboyant former squire of the village, certainly saw things differently. Writing in 2000 in the foreword to The View from the Bridge, Sheila Llewellyn’s history of our parish, he wrote: “As we achieve the Millenium, it’s time to honour the past and learn from it what’s worth preserving, cherishing and enhancing for future generations. There are scars to be healed, and new developments are inevitable. Let them be conceived always with a thoughtful understanding, a reverence for the natural beauty and a true endeavour to harmonise with the best efforts of our predecessors.” Read your cousin’s words, Christopher Purvis, and perhaps consider whether your actions are true to his aspirations.