Parish Council elections - An opportunity to contribute to our community
With regular references made in the Lych Gate over the last few months, it has hopefully not escaped your attention that a new Parish Council will be formed in May 2019. There are many organisations that contribute to the upkeep and development of this Parish – for example, the church, the village charities, the school, committees for the village fete and the village show to name but a very few. The Parish Council is one of those organisations.
So what is the Parish Council and what does it do?
The Parish of Waltham St Lawrence has c1,000 registered electors, so is relatively small. It covers the villages of Waltham St Lawrence, Shurlock Row, West End and Beenhams Heath, as well as part of Billingbear. It employs the Clerk and a Responsible Financial Officer, who manage the day-to-day operations of the Parish Council. The Parish Council is responsible for maintaining certain parts of the Parish and use contractors to undertake this task.
The Parish Council, comprising seven local residents, are elected every four years and deal with a wide range of issues affecting local people. It is the first port of call for local residents enquiring about public services. It liaises with and applies pressure to Royal Borough Councillors and officers on a variety of issues affecting local people including maintenance of the roads and public amenities.
The Parish Council meets once a month to take decisions affecting all aspects of life in the Parish, establishing policies for action, and deciding how much will be raised and spent on behalf of the community. It is responsible for spending public money lawfully and achieving the best value for money.
The role involves Councillors seeking and representing the views of local residents, organisations and associations on a variety of matters affecting the local community; identifying the needs of the Parish and finding ways of resolving these; setting the Annual Precept to meet these needs, and managing the Parish Council’s assets and finances effectively.
The Parish owns the Neville Hall, which operates as a registered charity. The Parish Councillors, as a body, are Trustees for the Neville Hall. This is managed day to day by a management committee who periodically report to the Parish Council. The Council leases and maintains the Milley Road Playing Field, it owns and maintains the Burial Ground in Halls Lane and the Allotments; and will shortly be taking on responsibility for maintaining the new Open Space Nature Reserve on Shurlock Road.
The role of a Councillor includes the following:
- Setting the budget. There is a statutory requirement for all councils to prepare an annual budget. Most policy decisions of the council have financial implications and these need to be considered as policy is made.
- Making management policy decisions in Council and ensuring that decisions taken by Council are properly implemented.
- Responsible for community engagement with local organisations such as the school
- Councillors have a role in representing the views of the Council and the community
- To suggest new initiatives or developments of existing policies and using new development funds wisely in our locality.
- To ensure that the views of the community are put to the relevant persons or bodies, and that the special interests of the community are protected and promoted.
A successful parish council depends for its success on the councillors, as well as the Chair and the Clerk, each playing complementary roles to ensure that Council devises appropriate policies and the Clerk carries them out. There is a budget for training of Councillors to ensure they are adequately briefed to carry out their function.
Parish Council Responsibilities
Parish Councils have limited Powers to make decisions but they do have the ability to negotiate with, and the power to influence, those other organisations that do make the final decisions (such as the Royal Borough, Utility providers, the Police etc). In this respect parish councils wield more power than immediately apparent as organisations know that a parish council gives the best reflection of how a community feels about something and its views will be taken seriously. Below is a list of the main areas which the WSL Parish Council have power over:
- The Allotments
- The Halls Lane Burial Ground
- Bye Laws concerning Milley Road Playing Fields, the Burial Ground and the Shurlock Road Open Space
- Drainage of ditches (although responsibility to keep it clear sits with the neighbouring land owner)
- To provide recreation areas (Milley Road Playing field and the Shurlock Road Open Space)
- To provide and maintain the war memorial
- To provide village notice boards (located by the Neville Hall, the Pond in Shurlock Row and in West End by Sill Bridge).
The main local areas maintained by the Parish Council, in addition to the areas noted above, are the areas around the Neville Hall, including the triangle by Neville Close, the Pound, the triangle opposite the War Memorial and the pond in Shurlock Row (although day to day maintenance of this, other than grass cutting, has recently been kindly assumed by the Brownlow Foundation).
Individual Councillors take on the responsibility for aspects that fall under the Parish Council as detailed above. To this will shortly be added the Open Space Nature Reserve. The Parish Council is consulted on all Planning applications in the Parish and this is also a key area of responsibility along with monitoring of Ditches, Footpaths, Highways, Communication and Finance.
Responsibility for maintaining footpaths, highways etc sits with the Royal Borough but the Parish Council plays a key role in making the Borough aware of work required and applying suitable pressure. An example of Parish Council influence are current discussions with the Borough which, after many years of pressure, should see reduced speed limits in the Parish.
So what does all this have to do with me?
It is easy to say that I don’t have enough time to do that – that is what I said 4 years ago but busy people find ways get things done. Or maybe you do have some spare time that you could put in – it definitely helps to have a mix of people that work and people that do not (or are part time) to get a good spread of views, experiences and time inputs.
The Parish Council is not party political – it represents the community – so it needs people like you, members of the community. Lack of experience doesn’t matter; there are training opportunities and the main requirement is enthusiasm and a desire to put something back and to make a difference.
But isn’t it just a group of do gooders with a feeling of self-importance and a lack of connection with reality? Well yes it could be – if you do not get involved yourself and make sure that it is focused on what really matters. The more people who put their hand up to contribute, the more relevant the Parish Council becomes.
It doesn’t matter how long you have lived here – a mixture of long standing and new is good – our community must continue to evolve whilst maintaining the key characteristics that make it a special place.
How much time will it take up?
The Parish Council meets once a month for the main Council meeting, to which members of the public are also invited. They start at 7pm on a Tuesday at the beginning of the month and should not last for more than 2 hours. There is also a gathering on the previous Saturday morning, usually at 9am, to review planning applications. This is not compulsory, but is very useful and helps to speed discussions on the Tuesday, and is usually concluded within the hour. There may be some ad hoc meetings, for example with Borough Council officers, but these are rarely more than once a month (it really depends on the time that you have available to contribute) and some time implementing action points from meetings.
Are you interested?
The best way to find out what it is like to be a Parish Councillor is to talk to someone who is doing it now or the Clerk. Go along to a parish council meeting and get a feel for what goes on. And there is an information session put on by the Royal Borough in the Maidenhead Town Hall on Wednesday 27th February, starting at 6pm – if you would like more information on this please speak to the Clerk.
There will be vacancies that need filling on the Parish Council in May. All seats are up for re-election but personal circumstances mean that a number of the current Parish Councillors are stepping down. Recently there have been relatively few Councillors drawn from the Shurlock Row and West End parts of the village. So if you live in those areas, please give particular thought to getting involved.
Even if you decide that this is not for you, please consider whether you can give up some time to contribute. The more people who put in a little time, the easier it is for all. Maybe you have young children who are likely to make use of the new play equipment in Shurlock Road? There is a need to inspect it regularly – this either falls on the few (Parish Councillors), is subcontracted (with a cost collected through the Precept) or if you are there anyway, would you be willing to give it a check (guidance given)? Or maybe you look at ditches outside of your house wishing they would flow better? If we can improve the coordination of monitoring of the state of the ditches around the Parish (ie don’t let it all be down to one person) we can identify blockages and, hopefully, reduce incidents of flooding. If you are willing to help in any way please make contact with the Clerk.
Please do consider standing for the Parish Council in May – you can make a difference. Please speak to the Clerk or an existing Councillor – it doesn’t commit you to anything – what have you got to lose?