County council unitary council bid ‘detrimental to rural communities, say Middleham town councillors


North Yorkshire County Council’s proposal for the creation of a unitary council would be detrimental to smaller, rural communities, it was agreed at the September virtual meeting of Middleham Town Council.

This was, the council believed, because of reduced service provision and democratic accountability as a consequence of regional centralisation and having significantly fewer councillors across a large unitary authority. There was also a consensus at the meeting that the reorganisation was being rushed.

The council understood from County councillor Karin Sedgwick that the closing dates for comments was the end of November, but the clerk would seek confirmation as the process for the consultation was vague.

Planning consultation. – Concern was also expressed that the central government’s consultation on planning was a further consultation when councils were preoccupied with the Covid-19 pandemic. Cllr Honor Byford agreed to review the potential implications of the government’s proposal to change the planning system.

The council decided not to submit a response to Richmondshire District Council’s consultation on its council tax reduction scheme as it appeared to be uncontentious.

Budget discussion. – The potential reductions in income due to Covid-19 were discussed. It was agreed there was very little scope to reduce total expenditure.

The Christmas lights were a significant expenditure due to the annual work required switching on and making repairs. However, it was agreed that the lights were very much appreciated.

Similarly, it was agreed not to reduce the frequency and extent of grass cutting. This was the largest single item of expenditure. However, the current appearance, particularly along the Busks, presented a good image for the town . The budget for 2021/22 will be presented to the November meeting.

G5 network. – At the Town Meeting the previous week there was some uncertainty whether what was proposed for installation in Coverdale constituted a full 5G network as it appeared to be the existing G4 system with faster central processing.

That meeting was told that the council had undertaken its own research, individually and collectively, and apart from hypersensitivity experienced amongst a very small number of individuals, verifiable scientific research revealed no evidence of danger to human and animal life or to plants.

The council has agreed that 5G was beneficial to residents and local businesses and it will continue to monitor new research. It would not, however, consider any unattributed research or that which had not been subjected to peer review and acceptable standards of scientific scrutiny.

Tree planting. – A resident submitted an outline scheme for tree planting to ‘green up’ the town wastes which, she said, could prompt discussion. A similar effect could be obtained by using carefully selected smaller trees, shrubs or planters, she added.

In a report read out at the town council meeting the district council’s conservation officer referred to the existing distinctive character of the town and stated there were certain practical considerations.

Councillors also summarised potential problems with the unknown routing of service cables and pipes beneath the cobbles, the expense of purchase and upkeep of trees at a time of budgetary pressures, lack of volunteers willing to tend to existing planters, and the reduction in car parking spaces.

It was agreed that this proposal will be considered again in the spring and that a residents’ questionnaire could be undertaken.

It was noted that the revised proposal by the Lower Wensleydale Biodiversity Action Group for tree planting near Pinkers Pond would now be on a far smaller scale and would, therefore, be less intrusive. The council, therefore, gave its consent.

Plantations. – Cllr Gregory Fortune had replied to a resident raising concerns about future maintenance plans for the Plantations and he said he would involve them with polling residents’ views. It was agreed only to seek views in the vicinity.

He will deliver leaflets providing information about the options for the Plantations and promote formation of a friends’ group.

Supporting the vulnerable. – Rev Liz Moody, one of the volunteer coordinators, had reported that the take-up of assistance and from the food bank had been very limited.

As it was likely that some lockdown restrictions might be reapplied and create difficulties over the winter months, especially for the vulnerable, it was agreed to email all volunteers informing them that they may be required and to remain available.

Play area. – It was agreed that Cllr Byford should speak to Middleham Sports and Community Wellbeing Association (MSCWA) regarding the proximity of children’s play equipment to the skate park and suggest erecting a trellis fence to demarcate the area.

Another quote will be sought for replacing a wooden ramp on the climbing equipment, and it was agreed to purchase a new cradle swing as that would be better value than replacing individual components.

It was reported that MSCWA was considered to be sound financially.

Next meeting. – will be on Wednesday September 30.