This report was presented to the Annual Parish Meeting in on 25 May 2011
The last year was my fourth year as Chairman of Coxhoe Parish Council. It has been yet another challenging year for us. Like everyone else we have had to cope with the impact of the recession and have had value for money firmly in our minds when we have continued to implement the Parish Plan. We have, therefore, had a year of careful budget management but, in doing so, we have continued to strive to meet the evolving needs of the community by delivering your priorities.
I feel that Coxhoe Parish Council has made further progress during the year. It has been a year of success but not without its disappointments.
My last Annual Report underlined the importance of partnership working. Again this year, a year of significant change and uncertainty, it has been proved that working with others is crucial to our achievements.
From April 2009 we have been working with the new Durham County Council and continue to work well with all of our other key partners to improve Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill. Recent events such as progress with Parish Plan 2 and, more recently, the disappointing plans of Durham County Council to close the Leisure Centre really have underpinned how important it is to work with our partners.
We know that we cannot work in isolation. We know that our partners’ resources are stretched and the recession is having a significant impact on public spending. Progress can often be slow and frustrating but we are an ambitious Parish Council and we are getting things done through partnership working. In the following paragraphs I would like to let you know what the Parish Council has achieved in the last year.
Improving Community Safety – Working with the Police
There have been some significant issues of anti-social behaviour, particularly by youths visiting Coxhoe. At the Parish Council meeting in October 2009 the Police reported that there were signs of a reduction in reported crime. However reports of anti-social behaviour began to increase towards the end of 2009 and so we convened a public meeting with our partners to discuss the problems. As a result, the police have been targeting particular locations and times and have encouraged the public to report issues. Reporting incidents is crucially important to the police and they have urged residents to let them know wherever and whenever issues arise. By understanding what is happening they can target activity, identify perpetrators, and take action to resolve problems.
The Parish Council actively encourages residents to call the Police each and every time. If you need to report an incident to the Police please ring 999 for emergencies or 0345 6060365 for non emergencies. The Police attend all main Parish Council meetings and provide a report on crime on a monthly basis. They have been reporting fewer instances of crime and anti-social behaviour over the last 12 months. The result of efforts in partnerships is that Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill are much safer places to live, work and play.
Improving Health Facilities – Working with the Primary Care Trust
The Parish Council, following on from the excellent work of the Coxhoe Community Partnership, has been lobbying for a new Medical Practice to be developed in Coxhoe. We had a positive meeting with representatives of the Primary Care Trust and GP’s, along with other community representatives, including Coxhoe Community Partnership and County Councillors. Unfortunately, and due to Central Government budget cuts and legislation change, the plans have been put back a further year. While this is disappointing it is a result of the impact of the recession but our Parish Council does not intend to give up.
During the year, the Parish Council made a donation to assist Butterwick House Children’s Hospice in providing a service focussed on enhancing young lives and supporting children’s families to care for children with life limiting illnesses.
Improving Highway Safety – Working with the County Council
We have made significant progress over the years in terms of highway safety. We made further progress this year. Speed reduction signs have been installed in Quarrington Hill and in Coxhoe on a rota basis, in partnership with Durham County Council. The electronic signs alert drivers to excessive speed and have a successful track record of slowing vehicles down. More importantly data can be retrieved to confirm the speeds traffic are travelling at and will inform the Council’s future decisions as to the success or otherwise of the measure introduced. As a result, we feel that highway safety has been improved within the villages.
In the previous year, and in response to a series of complaints from residents, the Parish Council in conjunction with the County Council provided bollards in The Avenue at Coxhoe to restrict inappropriate parking to avoid nuisance to residents. As this was not completely meeting their initial aim, we have worked with the County Council to encourage more enforcement which has improved the situation.
Work is now almost complete on new lighting columns in the Front Street, Coxhoe as a result of our work with Durham County Council. The heritage design lights have provided better lighting, and a number of columns are capable of receiving CCTV cameras. I hope you agree they have improved the appearance of the Front Street. The new lights have also allowed Christmas lights to be installed for the first time in Coxhoe. This is something the community has requested over a number of years. A living Christmas tree with lights was also introduced for the first time this year at Quarrington Hill.
Improving the Environment – Working with the Community Partnerships
The Parish Council has continued to actively work with Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill Community Partnerships supporting environmental improvement in the villages. During the year, Quarrington Hill Village Partnership worked tirelessly to procure play facilities in Quarrington Hill that will enhance the environment and create a safe area for children to play. We provided details to the Partnership on funding available through the County Council for play facilities through the Play Builders Programme 2010/2011 and Quarrington Hill Village Partnership used this for their successful submission for funding. Unfortunately this funding was withdrawn initially which put the facility in doubt. We have worked with the Partnership and helped support their bid for the County Council to take this on. Thankfully, the funding was also reinstalled. As a result a play scheme is now a feasible project and the proposals have recently been part of a public consultation exercise and work is about to commence. Congratulations to Quarrington Hill Partnership in delivering this key element of the Parish Plan.
We have continued to work with Coxhoe Community Partnership to consider environmental schemes on the village green sites identified in our first Parish Plan. Our Environment Committee has met with Groundwork to explore costs. We now intend to work closely with Durham County Council and Groundwork to explore options. To try and make improvements to untidy land and buildings within Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill, we have lobbied the County Council to request or require owners to improve premises. We are delighted that owners of some of the biggest eyesores have spent significant sums of money improving property at a time of recession. We are grateful for the work that they have carried out. In addition to this, we have supported planning applications where we felt that these would benefit the street scene in Coxhoe or would bring private investment into Quarrington Hill.
The outcome of this is a more attractive place to live, work and play.
Improvement of Churchyards, Grass Cutting, Hanging Baskets and Planters
Although the Parish Council owns a small parcel of land at St. Mary’s Churchyard in Coxhoe, both churchyards arethe responsibility of the respective Parochial Church Councils (PCC’s) and ultimately under the auspice of the Diocese of Durham. The Council has an agreement with the PCC’s for its contractor to cut the grass to an agreed standard and the two PCC’s contribute towards the cost of these cuts. Since this agreement was established, there have been very few complaints although one of the PCC’s has now decided to procure services elsewhere for the churchyard at Quarrington Hill.
The Parish Council has continued to provide grass cutting services within parts of the Parish, including some footpaths and Coxhoe War Memorial Garden, and provided a total of 72 hanging baskets during the summer months. The results of our value for money exercise in respect of this and other planter and flower bed provision within the villages has secured improved annual displays and we received great feedback last year for the efforts we made. There is always room for improvement, we know, and we have been looking at what else we can do in both villages to improve things even more. We will be seeing what comes out of community engagement on our second Parish Plan before we progress things further.
Improving the right to be heard – Consultations with Durham County Council
During the previous year, the Parish Council agreed to make a detailed representation to Durham County Council on how residents should be involved in planning decisions in the future. We urged the County Council to make planning meetings more accessible, as well as questing that they engage residents in advance of applications being received. If the County Council responds positively to our views, we feel that residents will have much greater opportunities to influence planning decisions where they live and work.
In the meantime, the Parish Council has been consulted on a significant number of important planning documents. These have been largely centred on planning policy relating to the County Durham Plan or the Local Development Framework. We have been able to make significant and detailed responses to such documents because for the last year or so we have had the services of a Voluntary Assistant Parish Clerk Ian Forster. Hopefully, as a result of submissions in respect of documents such as the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment and County Durham Settlement Study, we have been able to get our view over strongly to the County Council how we feel Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill should develop in the future. Our responses are all detailed on our website. We have also commented to the County Council on their ideas of the issues and challenges facing the County and priorities to be tackled. This was by way of replying to their consultation document asking for views on the County Durham Local Development Framework Core Strategy Issues. This should ensure that our views are taken into account when the County Council set their priorities for development in the County.
Finally, we have made our views known on a significant number of planning applications during the year, as well as hearing the views of residents on certain applications before deciding on our representations. You can find out what applications we have commented on and the County Council’s decisions on our website. To assist the planning process and try to get the best out of proposals we have also engaged in pre-application discussions with developers.
Improving Leisure Facilities – Working with a range of partners
The news that Durham County Council launched a consultation on the potential closure of the Leisure Centre is a bitter blow for our communities. The Parish Council is working very hard with Future Leisure in Coxhoe (FLiC) respond to this consultation and ensure that there is a future for this important community resource. This is such an important facility for people of all ages, as well as local groups such as Coxhoe United, that this has been the focus of our attention for the last few months. We are committed to keeping the Leisure Centre open.
The Parish Council has also passed views on to the County Council about the potential closure of Community Centres and Customer Access Points. We worked hard to maintain community centre facilities in Quarrington Hill and a public meeting in this connection in June 2010 resulted in a new Management Group taking over the running of that Community Centre which has had a positive impact on community spirit. We have also held discussions with the County Council about the future of Landsdowne House which is another important community resource.
Improving community engagement – Working with you
The lifetime of our first Parish Plan expired at the end of 2010. We have achieved a great deal of what we set out to do as a result of our first plan in 2005. Your aspirations and priorities will have changed in the last five years. We started work on our second plan, Parish Plan 2, last November and have made significant progress in the first few months of this year. During the first few months of 2011 we have held two engagement events with communities in Quarrington Hill and Coxhoe, as well as holding a business forum with traders. Well over 100 people in total attended these events. The Coxhoe event included a number of young people who contributed to the views expressed at the meeting. The events included an exhibition of achievements against our first Parish Plan and the young people from the Youth Room displayed their own exhibition material. We secured a massive amount of information from these events to help us put together our household questionnaire. We are grateful for the help provided to us so far by Durham Rural Community Council. Durham Rural Community Council holds Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill Parish Council up as best practice for community planning. In August they presented Coxhoe with a runner up award in the Durham Rural Community of the Year Competition.
As part of our commitment to Community Engagement we agreed our Communication and Engagement Strategy during the year, accessible from our website.
Improving Parish Council Administration and Meetings – Towards Quality Status
In June 2009 the Parish Council appointed a new Parish Clerk, Margaret Forster, who took up her duties in July following the resignation of our previous Clerk. We have come on in leaps and bounds as a result of her hard work and dedication which has been supported, on a voluntary basis, by her husband, Ian. It has been an extremely busy year for the Parish Council and for the Clerk. We have met eleven times and considered over 500 items of business. We have held a Finance Committee to discuss and agree our budget for next year. In addition, we have held special meetings to discuss environmental improvements.
We are committed to promoting the well being of residents and businesses in our village and most of our work is aimed at improvement. All of our meetings have been attended by the public. Residents have the opportunity to come along and raise issues at the beginning of each Council meeting. The meeting agenda is placed on the Parish Notice Boards in both villages in advance of the meeting and minutes of meetings are also published there once they have been approved. Meetings are generally held on the fourth Wednesday of the month commencing at 6.45 p.m. All meeting dates are displayed on the Parish Notice Boards.
Since June 2009, all Parish Council meetings are held at Landsdowne House, 64 Lansdowne Road, Coxhoe (just down from the Doctor’s Surgery) where the Parish Council offices are based. The offices are open to visiting members of the public on Tuesdays and Thursdays between 9.00 a.m. and 12.00 noon. This has enabled public access to the Parish Council and has improved efficiency in the management of Parish Council affairs, including meetings, while helping to sustain this important community facility.
There has been a clear increase in workload as a result of our ambition, the need for value for money, and the impact of local government reorganisation. In particular, there has been increased consultation from the County Council as they strive to improve services and additionally the work of the local Area Action Partnership has been monitored and reported.
Our communications with our communities have been massively improved. We have provided detailed information in each edition of the village newsletters about what we are doing. We undertook a value for money exercise which now enables us to print the newsletters in house at a saving. We were able to launch an exciting new website in September last year which was the culmination of three months’ work and at no cost to the Parish Council. The site was developed by our Voluntary Assistant Parish Clerk in partnership with Durham County Council. The site has been developed on a community based one stop shop approach and is full of up to date community information about our communities, the Parish Council, and our partners. The site is considered to be so good by Durham County Council that they hold it up as a shining example for other Parish Councils. We also launched a facebook page which has over 150 friends now.
We have been fully committed to achieving ‘Quality Council’ Status for the Parish Council. The Parish Clerk has undertaken the appropriate training which is a key part of achieving the standards required.
During the year the Council received positive reports from its External and Internal Auditors, as well as undertaking a full risk assessment of our activity. The External Auditor found that everything that needed to be done on the final accounts for the previous year (2009 to 2010) had been and that there were no causes for concern. The Internal Auditor found that all the appropriate internal control objectives were achieved throughout the year. The Internal Auditor also conducted a mid-year audit towards the end of 2010 on the 2010 to 2011 accounts and Council practices and reached similar conclusions. In addition to this, we considered the effectiveness of our Internal Audit service as it met the appropriate criteria of independence and competence. In meeting the five expected standards, the service was judged to be effective overall and this forms part of our Annual Governance Statement. Residents can be assured that we are conducting our business well. Our financial performance is discussed later in this report.
In the summer, the Parish Council participated in a review of the Local Council’s Charter. This is a charter signed by the County Council and the County Durham Association of Local Councils. This will mean improved partnership arrangements between the Parish and County Councils and as a result more efficient service delivery for residents.
Remember that members of the public are welcome to attend our Parish Council meetings and we would like to see you there.
Financial performance 2010/2011
The Parish Council’s detailed accounts for the year ending 31st March 2011 are set out in Annexe 1 attached to this report. We have prudently managed our budgets this year in the light of the recession and to protect us from financial risk in future years.
For the year we set a budget with a total expenditure of £47,436. Through a cautionary approach to expenditure during the year our balances remained prudent at just over £20,000.
We had undertaken a number of value for money exercises in the previous year which resulted in efficiency savings for future years including the provision of planting services, the in house printing of village newsletters, and the maintenance of the two Millennium
Clocks in Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill.
The total expenditure of the Parish Council was £40,478.87. Outside the central costs of administering the Parish Council including the salary for the Clerk, insurances, and keeping the community informed by way of newsletters (£21,667.42) the highest areas of total expenditure were on:
- highways (£6,661.75),
- public buildings (£5,121.90),
- grant assistance (£2,460.50), and
- Churchyards (£2,220.00).
Some of the organisations who benefitted from grants and donations were :
- the Village Partnerships,
- Coxhoe Village Hall Association,
- the Citizens AdviceBureau,
- Quarrington Hill Community Association,
- Coxhoe Allotment Association,
- the Great North Air Ambulance,
- Durham City Youth Project,
- Butterwick House Children’s Hospice,
- Diabetes UK, St. Cuthbert’s Hospice,and
- Lansdowne Pensioners.
A summary of our expenditure and income at 31 March 2011 follows:
Total Income and Expenditure 2010 to 2011 compared with previous year:
Total Expenditure £40,478.87 compared to £39,946.64
Total Income £43,676.99 compared to £43,941.59
Net expenditure -£3,198.12 compared to £3,994.95
Balances at end of financial year £24,052.83 compared to £20,854.71 (Both figures include an element of committed expenditure agreed to be carried forward to the next financial year.)
Breakdown of Total Expenditure 2010 to 2011 compared with previous year
Central Services £8,444.68 compared to £7,770.94
Salaries £13,896.48 compared to£12,428.62
Churchyards £2,220.00 compared to£2,590.00
Footpaths and Open Spaces £1,045.00 compared to £795.00
Allotments and Gardens £0.00 compared to£451.64
Public Buildings £5,121.90 compared to£333.13
Highways £6,661.75 compared to£10,049.10
Section 137 Donations £2,460.50 compared to£2,767.50
VAT £1,302.30 compared to£2,086.97
Total Expenditure £40,478.87 compared to£39,946.64
Breakdown of Total Income 2010 to 2011 compared with previous year
Precept £38,618.00 compared to £35,118.00
Interests on Investments £14.12 compared to £55.48
Allotment and Grazing Rents £599.64 compared to £1,152.43
Grants and Contributions £4,051.00 compared to £3,581.75
VAT Reclaimed £394.23 compared to £4,033.93
Total Income £43,676.99 compared to £43,941.59
Councillors have to tread a difficult path and have to balance the needs and aspirations of the majority with the individual concerns of the minority. As a result, and something I have learned from my years of being a Councillor, is that we cannot please everybody all of the time. On the whole very few complaints are received by the Parish Council and the majority of residents appear pleased (from the comments and contributions Members receive) with the progress the Council is making within the community. A formal letter of thanks was received during the year from the Durham Rural Community Council for the Parish Council’s work in relation to the visit by the Department of Communities and Local Government. The Community was a runner up in the Durham Rural Community Council’s Rural Community of the Year 2010.
Public spending in the next few years is going to be cut further in order to address the national deficit. This means that opportunities to finance initiatives will become more restricted and our partners will have fewer resources to address issues. We feel that we have prudently managed our budgets this year to leave us in a position to address future projects whilst making clear progress on the priorities in the Parish Plan. We are constantly looking at ways of achieving the most economic, cost effective and efficient means of doing things. We continue to look at ways of reducing expenditure and increasing income without affecting service delivery to the community. We have significantly improved as a Parish Council and are now formally on our way to achieving ‘Quality’ Status. We know that we need to continually improve to ensure the best services for our communities in Coxhoe and Quarrington Hill. We fully aim to do so.
Partnership working will continue to bring about real changes within the community and the work of the two village partnerships is to be commended. These partnerships work tirelessly in a volunteer capacity to drive and achieve improvement. I thank them very much for the work they do and reassure them that the Parish Council fully supports them and what they are trying to do.
Dennis Morgan and Maria Plews, our County Councillors, continue to support the Parish Council in our endeavours for which we are truly grateful.
I would sincerely like to thank my fellow Parish Councillors, all of whom give up their time freely and energetically. It is always worth remembering that none of the Councillors receive payment for their efforts. In particular, my thanks go to the Vice-Chair of the Parish Council, Stuart Dunn, who has deputised for me on a good number of occasions, due to my ever growing work commitments. Stuart has helped so much over the years to move the Parish Council forward.
Last but not least I would like to thank our Clerk, Margaret Forster, who has worked long and hard since her appointment, to improve our procedures, meticulously delivering the services we provide and dealing with our significant workload in an extremely professional manner; and our Assistant Clerk, Ian Forster, who has put in many hours on a voluntary basis, and produced an exceptional website and moved forward progress towards Parish Plan 2. Sadly Margaret has recently resigned from her post as Parish Clerk in order to spend more time with her husband, Ian. The Parish Council wish both Margaret and Ian well for the future. The Parish Council are currently looking to appoint a new Clerk to build upon the solid foundations that are in place.
Chair of Coxhoe Parish Council
Contact Details for Coxhoe Parish Councillors and Clerk:
Parish Councillors in Coxhoe Telephone: Email
Councillor Paul Dodsworth (Chair)
Councillor Stuart Dunn (Vice-Chair)
Councillor Ron Mayo
Councillor Mrs. Barbara Hepplewhite
Councillor Tony Rowe
Councillor Colin Thirlaway
Councillor Jimmy Taylor
Councillor Dennis Smith
Parish Councillors in Quarrington Hill
Councillor Keith Pounder
Councillor Mrs. Carole Wigham
Councillor George Shotton