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Effingham Eye: Environment In Focus, Councillors Prefer Zoom, Orchard Looks Wonderful, Trustees’ Explanation

Published on: 6 May, 2021
Updated on: 7 May, 2021

Chris Dick offers some views on local matters with an account of two council meetings, the orchard project nearing completion and sheds some light on the work of a previously camera-shy charity.

Annual parish meeting

It seems ages since Effingham Parish Council (EPC) held its annual parish meeting, via Zoom on Tuesday, April 13.

This meeting, as opposed to the annual meeting of the parish council, which we will come onto later, revolved around the chairman’s annual report. It is usually followed by questions from the audience and perhaps a council-related update.

However, this year it was followed by a presentation from a guest speaker, Henrietta Stock from the Guildford Environmental Forum. Her presentation entitled, How Effingham should react to the Climate Emergency, was introduced by Cllr Jerome Muscat.

Cllr Muscat began his introduction by giving a resumé covering the EPC climate change working group projects.

These projects really do seem to have struck a chord with many who might otherwise not wish to get involved.

The projects covered a range of initiatives such as new cycleways, a survey on our current and future carbon footprint, how our road verges could become more wildlife and invertebrate friendly, tree planting, more recycling initiatives, electrical recharging points, how to improve biodiversity and the restoration of a pond.

Anyone wishing to get involved can email the parish clerk at clerk2010@effinghamparishcouncil.gov.uk

Then came Henrietta’s informative talk, accompanied by graphic videos and stills. It was well-received and generated several questions from a concerned audience who wanted to do what they could.

Perhaps more interesting, but sadly off the record, was the following day’s stimulating wide-ranging discussion that bounced back and forth via emails between a few individuals who had listened to Henrietta’s talk.

It was good natured and well-informed and delved into, among other things, the impact of volcanic output on carbon emissions. It ended with all concerned agreeing that we should do what we could to reduce our impact on the adverse effects of climate change.

Let’s hope that the closing comment from one wit, quoting Private Frazer of the Dads’ Army TV series, does not come true: “We’re all doomed.”

Annual meeting of the parish council

To confuse matters more, the council did indeed hold its annual meeting of the parish council on Tuesday, May 4, via Zoom.

This is not usually the most exciting of meetings.  Mmm … perhaps that should be rephrased?

In general (excuse the pun), an annual meeting is usually a dull meeting with the sole function of either increasing one’s consumption of alcohol – for those so inclined – or finding any excuse to be doing something more important.

The chairman and vice-chairman stand down. Then the councillors elect their new chairman and vice-chairman for the forthcoming year.  This is when the outgoing chairman tries to catch the eye of a colleague with the intention of palming the role off on some unsuspecting succour who is daft enough to look in his or her direction.

Strangely enough, all the councillors at this point appear to be engrossed in the paperwork in front of them and completely miss the imploring look from their outgoing leader. This will of course not be their first rodeo.

If no-one steps up, the poor incumbent is usually voted back in with lots of encouragement and blowing of smoke up his / her leg. [Ed: I’m not sure this is politically correct in today’s woke world].

And then it’s all about on-going subscriptions, memberships, contracts, commitments, arrangements for liaison with outside organisations and blah blah blah …. zzzzz.

But this time, in Effingham’s case, it was going to be different. Err … no it was not!

Fifteen pages of agenda and other bits was masterly covered at high speed by Cllr Ian Symes, the new chairman … who looked and sounded remarkably like the old chairman.

To make a long meeting even longer the agenda even covered routine items such as the latest planning applications. But happily I found something that required my attention and therefore missed the second half.

In passing, there did not appear to be anyone attending the meeting apart from councillors and the press. Clearly word had got out!

The first half hour of the meeting that was spent reversing the suspension of a policy had the effect –  temporarily – of opening up the recordings of meetings to everyone.

The policy change had been reported in April’s Effingham Eye as something of a trailblazer initiative. However, following a healthy debate where councillors expressed polar opposite and strongly held opinions, the trail came to an abrupt end.

The decision to reinstate the policy was based on sound and reasonable research by the clerk. A working group was set up to look into the policy … which in the real world meant the policy to delete recordings, after the minutes had been agreed, would remain.

One point of interest was the apparent concern of councillors to return to normal monthly meetings in the flesh. The majority clearly liked meeting via Zoom and saw the return to the village hall as a negative. The problem was that the Zoom technology had only been authorised to be used by councils until mid May.

Anyway, the matter was fudged around and ended up with the chairman, vice-chairman and clerk having some sort of delegated authority to make decisions. These decisions would flow out from monthly chats, open to the public, on Zoom.

St Lawrence Church orchard project

Above and below: Before and after (almost finished) orchard project in The Street Effingham.

Over several weeks, around half a dozen volunteers, mostly from the St Lawrence Church, have been working on the orchard project, opposite the Methodist chapel in The Street.

Volunteers working on the orchard project in The Street Effingham.

The professionally designed and beautifully laid out orchard is nearly complete. It looks wonderful when one recalls what it used to look like.

Fresh-laid grass in front of new shrubs and fruit trees have transformed this previously unloved patch of highways land into something most attractive.

Nick Hourhan, there owner of Spring Reach Nursery, Ockham.

The volunteers were keen to praise Nick Hourhan of Spring Reach Nursery for his support and of course the quality of all his plants.

Orchard project volunteer Jonathan Hargreaves.

Speaking on behalf of the volunteers, Jonathan Hargreaves,said: “Members of the church have taken the initiative to transform the patch of previously scrub land in the centre of the village.

“We hope that it will be an area to relax, chat and watch the world go by. We are grateful to all those who have already supported the project, including the parish council.”

With the finishing touches and benches still to be added readers are invited to donate by clicking here.

Homes planned for former school land

View of Howard of Effingham School in the foreground and Effingham Lodge Farm fields.

Berkeley Homes is seeking approval from Guildford Borough Council for 99 homes on what is currently the grounds of the Howard of Effingham School.

The Secretary of State has already granted outline planning permission so this process is more about the detail of the layout and the height and type of homes that will be built once the new school is in operation.

As work is about to start on the sites, these details are not expected to draw as much attention as the initial application. That said, Effingham Parish Council, Residents’ Association and a few others have written to the borough council to express concerns about the layout and type of buildings and in particular the building heights and the close proximity to the burial grounds at All Saints Church, Little Bookham.

Indeed, looking back at the recent Church Street, Effingham development plans, the borough council had turned down that application on much the same grounds.

Some councillors had been concerned about the close proximity of that development to the St Lawrence church burial grounds.

Of course, these homes will be built on the former Howard of Effingham site, it is just a matter of getting the plans right for the adjacent properties such as the church burial grounds, Effingham Place and the King George V recreation grounds.

And finally … recreation ground trustees explain their objectives

As reported last month the King George V (KGV) playing fields management trustees are seeking to change from being a simple charity to a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO).

There had been concerns that such a move might take the fields and woodland one step closer to the developers. Maybe not now, but perhaps at some time in the future.

Trustees had apparently been advised to avoid discussions about the potential transfer of ownership. Perhaps this was why the press had been banned from reporting on their recent annual meeting and questions asked had initially gone unanswered.

Thankfully this situation has been reversed and, where suspicions had been festering over what seemed to be a policy shrouded in secrecy, light has been cast on what the trustees are hoping to achieve and why.

Chairman Howard Manton explained that the change was being  encouraged by the Charity Commission and that many charities of similar size had already changed.

Mr Manton explained that the change would provide trustees with unlimited liability coverage and, speaking of the current limited insurance: “[This] is seen as a major deterrent to people considering becoming a trustee.”

He said that he wanted trustees to delegate more responsibility to staff rather than having to be closely involved in every aspect of the day-to-day management of the charity.

Mr Manton added: “There is no change from the present situation. Current trustees are, and future trustees will be, under the strictest duty to protect the charity in perpetuity.

“There is no intention to sell off land for development. The trustees are constantly seeking ways of increasing revenue from use of KGV [recreation grounds] and making EVRT [Effingham Village Recreational Trust] sustainable.

“The Charity Commission has promoted this conversion for a number of years but the trustees have been too busy with other matters to progress.

“It began to be more relevant and pressing when the Berkeley Homes enabling development was first raised; this entails a potential re-development of the KGV Hall.

“Currently, the deeds to KGV are held by the parish council and it was considered preferable for the charity to hold the deeds (which is possible under a CIO) to simplify the contractual discussions with Guildford Borough Council which would allocate the funding. The Berkeley Homes development has taken longer than anticipated and the trustees continue to deal with many pressing matters.

“It is misleading to imply that there is any reluctance on the part of the trustees to explain this change and we have every intention of doing so when we are ready.

“However, we are still in a research phase so discussions with solicitors are ongoing and, as yet, there is nothing the trustees can say which would be definitive.

“The trustees have been assured by solicitors that the community should see no change in the objectives of the charity, the facilities it provides to the residents of Effingham nor the safeguards in place to protect the assets of the charity. Under these circumstances there is little for residents and the press to debate.”

Interestingly, and slightly at odds with the above, a well-placed source close to the trustees had told The Guildford Dragon NEWS that the change to CIO status had been due for completion earlier in the year.

However, the KGV charity comes under the Fields of Trust charity, whose patron is the Duke of Cambridge. When recently contacted it appeared that the Fields of Trust charity had not yet been consulted about the planned change of status.

The Fields of Trust was formed in the 1920s to protect our open spaces from development. All the King George V playing fields up and down the country and many other green spaces come under this charity.

Whatever happens, the KGV trustees must seek prior approval before taking on the property and if they at some point try to sell off a parcel of land they must again seek permission from the Fields of Trust.

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