Yesterday (12th March 2019) was the annual Parish Meeting of Abingdon-on-Town Council. It is not a council meeting but a chance for the electors to hear what the Town Council has been doing. Chairs of committees sat at the front of the Roysse Room in the Guildhall and reported back on what had been done by their committee, followed by questions from the public. There was also a short presentation by Ian and Sue Wiper, who now run the Abbey Cinema, and manage the other rooms of the Guildhall. About twenty five people had come to listen. The Mayor, Councillor Margaret Crick, introduced and chaired the meeting.
There were also some announcements about what the Vale of White Horse District Council (VWHDC) have planned for Old Abbey House, Upper Reaches, and the Charter. Anyway here is my typed up record of the meeting
Amenities Committee – Thanks were given to the staff who go out in all weathers. The snow equipment got an outing on the Market Place. New Fishing Signs have been erected by the River and the effect will be monitored. New play equipment has been put in at Elizabeth Avenue, and Hill View play areas. More is planned for Box Hill and Masefield Cresent play areas. Abingdon in Bloom flower displays last year were a great success. Council staff also maintain cemeteries and bus shelters, one of which was knocked down by a car and needs reinstating. Christmas Lights were up as usual.
Community Committee – Grants worth £18K have been given to community groups and a list was read out. Fun and Music in the Park were a success, and will run again this year. The Council communicate mainly through their website. Asked about noticeboards in the town centre we were told that was being looked at. I did not hear a mention of the Community Led Plan but may have blinked.
Guildhall Committee – Councillor Dennis Garrett has been a star on this council and has put in a lot of hours in to get this project near completion. A little work still needs doing but that has to be done round cinema hours not to spoil the cinema experience. The old rooms have been reopened as reported in previous blog posts, and the cinema. Once the muniment room is ready, the town’s records can be brought back – currently in Berkshire Records Office. During the revamp money was spent future proofing as far as possible. For example, the new pavement has been built to a high standard and can take emergency vehicles. Hire Rates have been set at a level to encourage community groups. I asked what had happened to the Guildhall tables and was told they had been a finger trip hazard and were got rid of. Some of the smaller ones are now at the Beacon in Wantage. Chairs have been kept where they are usable. Somebody commented that the front of the Abbey Hall looks shabby and was told the Abbey Cinema will be seeking planning consent for improvements.
Museum Committee – A Heritage Lottery grant helped finance the WWI propaganda exhibition. We were told the next exhibition will be ‘Rubbish’. People laughed at this point. It was explained this was about discarded household items and the story they tell. I asked whether a better site would be found for the Information Centre, currently in the museum, and was told that is being looked at.
Planning and Highways – We were given a description about the work of this committee. Objections to plans must be ‘material’ to succeed. ‘Material’ means that they are in line with the various local plans such as the VWHDC local plan and County Council mineral extraction etc. The town council agreed 95% of the time with VWHDC who actually make the final decision. If the Town Council does object to a plan then they ask VWHDC to call it in so it is discussed in public at committee, and a Town Councillor often goes to speak in such cases.
Finance & General Purposes Committee – This committee gathered together the needs of the other committees and set the precept at £1,549,607. (need to double check figure). It was also noted that the Town Council no longer gets the localisation grant, or funding from other councils towards the museum. Bigger grants are given by the Town Council for Citizens Advice, Abingdon Bridge, the 41 Bus Service (the council got a good price by using the Drayton School bus at times outside the school run), Children’s Centre (£90K over 3 years), town centre PCSO.
The Town Council has 17.4 staff: 6 officers. 5 outdoor staff. 4.1 museum staff. 1 residents parking warden, 0.9 Information Centre and 0.4 (gym? cannot read my notes). There is also an unpaid honorary Town Archivist, and Mace Bearer and museum volunteers.
Non Town Council Abingdon news:
A hotel operator is interested in taking over the lease of the Upper Reaches. If their offer is agreed by the current lease holder then the hotel could be re-developed and re-opened.
Old Abbey House is still intended to be used for affordable housing. Providers of Social Housing are being asked whether they want to take it on.
Something was also said about the Charter area but I did not hear what. I expect that will appear in Conservative leaflets as these announcements are partly political. The Conservatives want to retain the control of VWHDC in the election on May 2nd.
Ian and Sue Wiper – Abbey Cinema and Guildhall
There were over 1000 visitors during the Guildhall Open Day. They have an events manager, marketing person, and caterer to help run the Guildhall. People seem happy with Community Rates and there are 150 bookings so far, and many enquiries.
Since opening there have been 11,000 visitors to the new cinema, which is in line with projections. They are now marketing it more strongly with leaflets to houses. Currently there are 164 seats, and that will rise to 174.
I did ask the council why there was no large room for public meetings in the town centre – one with over 100 people. The Council Leader, Cllr Mike Badcock, said that I was wrong. There was the Amey Theatre at Abingdon School.