“There will never be another John Blackie or anyone like him” council is told

Jill McMullon and John Blackie.

By Betsy Everett

Hawes and High Abbotside parish council held a two-minute silence in memory of the late John Blackie, its former chairman who died in July, before electing councillor Jill McMullon to take his place this week.

“I am honoured to be elected, but I wish it wasn’t necessary. I wish he was here with us,” she told members at their first meeting since Mr Blackie’s death.

“There will never be another John Blackie or anyone like him, but we can and will honour him by working together to do our best for Hawes.”

Tony Fawcett agreed to continue as vice chairman.

Clerk to the council Fran Cartwright said there were currently four vacancies on the parish council, two for Hawes and two for High Abbotside, one a casual vacancy caused by the death of Mr Blackie. Six applicants had come forward.

Members agreed with Cllr McMullon that a separate meeting should be convened to interview the candidates and they would then be selected by secret ballot. 

The craftsman who had made the shepherd statue at Town Foot had offered to create a suitable memorial to Cllr Blackie and members agreed a “fitting space” for it would be on the green near the filling station which John had set up as a community venture.  A suggestion box would be placed in the community office and Richard Noble offered to re-landscape the space to accommodate the memorial once the design had been approved by the council.

Griff Thomas of GTEC explained proposals to extend the roll-out of hyper-fast fibre optic broadband under the B4RN (Broadband for the Rural North) project. He said many people in rural areas were “hard done to” and a lot of money had been wasted by BT who had “lined their pockets” on the nationwide superfast broadband project. B4rn, a non-profit community benefit society, offered speeds at least 40 times faster than so-called superfast broadband, as well as unlimited bandwidth, and speeds were guaranteed 100 per cent of the time.

Cables had been rolled to the Moorcock and Newby Hall Farm – which had the fastest broadband speed of any rural community in the country – and he was now totally confident wayleaves would be signed to allow the cables to be laid for the extension into Hawes.

There was government funding of £700,000 and a new voucher scheme had been launched for businesses and commercial premises, which included individuals working from home. Businesses would attract between £2,500 and £3,000 funding and domestic properties between £500 and £1,500 per property. Schools would get a free service and there would be concessions for places of worship and holiday lets. The national park authority was “completely on board” and had offered £10,000 towards the central cabinet.

The monthly cost would be less than £30 per household and he encouraged people to register their interest at www.B4RN.co.uk

Clerk to the council Fran Cartwright and Mr Blackie.

Councillor Emma Blades said the football club were staging a Family Fun Day on Sunday, September 29, from 10am-6pm on the community field to celebrate the UCI World Road Cycling Championship race which would be passing the entrance to the venue.  Entry will be £5, under 16s will go free, and proceeds will go towards the building of the Johnny Walker Community Pavilion. The club had received a grant of £2,000 towards the event. She asked for support in providing bunting and “welcome” signs into the town.

A request had been received from a member of the public to buy and install a bench in honour of her father, a former Hawes resident and member of the Hawes Silver Band. Richard Noble said in the past Cllr Blackie had delegated such requests to him. He would take the details, source the bench, give a cost and suggest a suitable place. He was happy to continue the tradition. Cllr McMullon thanked him, adding: “This is the first time I have ever heard of John delegating anything!”

Pip Pointon who attends meetings of the national park’s planning committee on behalf of the Association of Rural Communities, said she had been “upset and disgusted” at criticism levelled at John Blackie at a recent planning meeting.

The ARC held him “in very high regard” and he “pushed himself all the way to the very end.” In June he had told the committee of his support for a domestic barn conversion near The Shearlings off  Hardraw Road, which the committee had turned down.

“At the July meeting they then went through a list of items criticising John for standing up for his community,” said Mrs Pointon. One member had stated that he hoped “Mr Blackie will not be tempted to bully the staff.”

The meeting had been held the day after Cllr Blackie, a member of the planning committee, had been admitted to hospital, and four days before he died.

Hawes businesswoman Ruth Annison said the planning committee member in question had also stated that he hoped Hawes and High Abbotside parish council would “call John to account.”

Said Cllr McMullon: “If they assume that now John is no longer here we will not stick up for our communities they can think again. The parish council would have had no intention of ever holding John to account, as we supported him. They seem to be trying to hold him up as some kind of renegade when all he was doing was supporting his community,” she said.

Members agreed to send a “strongly worded” letter to the authority.

Cllr McMullon said a memorial service for Cllr Blackie had been planned to take place at St Margaret’s Church, Hawes, on September 27. However, she had heard that between two and three thousand people might attend, in which case they would have to select another venue which would be announced in due course. “I want it to be a happy occasion and a celebration of his life,” she said.

The next meeting of the parish council will be on Monday, October 7.