Good evening, and welcome to the Annual Town Meeting where we will be reviewing the work of the Town Council over the last year. I apologise for not being at the meeting, I am on a painting trip to Tuscany.
It has been a busy year for the Town Council, as usual. I think during this year, Councillors and Town Council staff first became aware of the nature of changes that are scheduled to happen soon. Wiltshire Council intends to pass many of the assets they hold within Wiltshire Towns to the ownership and management of local parish councils.
We had evidence of this first two years ago with the sudden announcement that Wiltshire would be closing all Youth Centres with almost immediate effect. After a considerable amount of work, we secured the building on a seven-year lease so that the Youth Club could keep running. Then, in 2016, we learnt that all Public Conveniences would be closed on the 1st of April, unless the Town Councils undertook to take them over. Consequently, many towns have been left without any municipal toilets, with the buildings boarded up and open to vandalism. In Bradford, understanding the importance of tourism to the economy of our town, the Council decided not to allow the loss of this public amenity. We took over the running of our town toilets, and appointed Town Wardens Simon Sutton and Neil Caffrey, who, besides looking after the toilets, can now been seen around the town centre helping to keep our streets tidy and our public areas in good condition. They also offer a friendly public face of our Town Council, and we are very grateful for the work that they do.
The Town Council has also taken over Westbury Gardens, and we are now responsible for the upkeep of the grass and for the planting. A new planting scheme that will provide colour but will also be fairly low maintenance, has recently been designed and planted by Assistant Hall Manager, Keith Draper and his team, and we are grateful for his expert input into this project. The new beds look very attractive and hopefully the chosen plants will expand to attractively fill the spaces. We have commissioned hanging baskets as usual to decorate our town for the summer season. A new flag pole has been erected in Westbury Gardens, which will be great for future Remembrance Day celebrations. The Town Council are also currently negotiating taking over Culver Close from Wiltshire Council, this will involve looking after the cricket pavilion, the bowls club, the green spaces and play area and the tennis courts.
Much more of this nature will probably soon be coming our way. In effect, Wiltshire will not devolve any assets that make them a good income, so we will not be offered the major car parks. We have been informed that any assets we choose not to take over will be maintained by Wiltshire Council at the lowest level of maintenance, and nobody knows how safely these assets will be protected in the future from closure and re-development. Clearly the coming months and years will be a testing time, when communities may have to decide what public buildings, recreation facilities and services they feel they need to maintain, at what cost to the residents, and which facilities the communities can reasonably do without to keep costs within reason.
Last year, we re-opened the Tourist Information Centre in Westbury House, offering an excellent service to our many visitors. We also appointed Daryl Jones as our Tourism and Events Manager. Among many other projects, she is working to achieve a much better presence for Bradford in the Bath Tourism office, with the intention of welcoming more visitors from Bath to see what Bradford on Avon has to offer. A new Tourism Guide has been commissioned, and the map of Bradford included in the Guide has been re-drawn to include Kingston Mills, Lamb Yard and the Iron Duke. A tourist leaflet has also been produced and will be distributed from the Bath Tourist Office, and it is hoped that this will encourage more visitors to come to Bradford on Avon.
The Civil War Re-enactment, planned by Councillors’ Laurie Brown and Mike Roberts, and by the Deputy Town Clerk Emma Sylvester, was a good event for the Town and visitors alike, although the financial cost to the Town Council and, in effect, the residents, was considerable. Fortunately the weather was fine and many people turned up to enjoy the event and Bradford on Avon in the sunshine. I would like to thank all the Town Council Staff for their 100% involvement in that event, and to all the Town Councillors who also took part.
The Christmas lights were beautiful in Bradford this year, and we had a wonderful evening to begin our annual Town festivities. Thanks go to all those who helped with this, very much including our Olympic double silver medallist Jazz Carlin who agreed to do the switch – on for us. We were all thrilled when Jazz won her two silver medals, and decided to honour her by naming the steps leading up to the McKeever Bridge the ‘Carlin Steps’. We had a silver plaque made, positioned close to the McKeever plaque, and Jazz unveiled this as soon as she got home from the Rio Olympics. We hope other young people from the town will be inspired by the wonderful achievements of both Jazz and Ed.
Other social calendar events took place as usual. The pancake race was won this year by The Grapes. A rather cold wet day, but fun as usual – and enlivened by the presence of Trowbridge’s Town Crier. There was another very successful Fruit and Flower Show in September. The 2016 Duck Race was postponed at Easter after heavy rains made the river unsafe – however it happened instead in June on a lovely day, when we also welcomed residents of the town to a tea party in St. Margaret’s Hall to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday. A large number of people came for tea, with cakes made by the local Save the Children group. A donation of £500 was given to help the work of Save the Children. The Town Council also decided to make the presentation of a commemorative coin to all the primary school children in the town. These were very well received, and proved much easier for the schools to distribute than the mugs we presented for the Golden Jubilee! The Duck Race this year was a huge success, with all 800 ducks being sold and loads of people down around the river to watch the progress of the race. Great fun was had by all.
St. Margaret’s Hall, under the management of Hall Manager Tim Yeomans, continues to be an extremely well-used and a vibrant community asset. The pull – out seating has made it an excellent performance space, used twice annually by the Bradfordians, and has also housed a children’s pantomime as well as half term children’s shows, music shows and comedy events. The Hall is getting increased use. We have had a hatch made from the kitchen into the Council Chamber, which can be used for interval drinks, etc. The Hall was also the venue for a Civic tea party to welcome the German Twinning Group, who visited last year in August – a similar event will take place this May when the French visitors arrive from Sully sur Loire. We continue as a Town Council to support our two twinning groups, and also the Polish Twinning with the Five Towns. We are grateful to the Church Yard team, who help to look after the Millennium Garden and the Twinning Garden.
We are very pleased, also, to see an increased use of the Youth and Community Centre on the Frome Road for all kinds of events and workshops, birthday parties, etc. As one of the few community spaces on the south side of town, this is an encouraging move forward. Last year, we ran some very successful holiday events for children on Victory Field, and hope to do the same or more this year. We are grateful to the office staff Val Baker and Gill Murray who ensured that these holiday days ran smoothly and were much enjoy by local children.
Unfortunately, at times vandalism does occur within the town. We are grateful to former Mayor John Potter and his team who spent hours cleaning up our bus shelters, and also to our town wardens for removing graffiti. One frequent target is the sport pavilion on Victory Field. We have had metal shutters installed to try to prevent further vandalism from happening on this site.
We have, as a Town Council really recognised the need for providing better information for all residents within the town. The newsletter has been redesigned to be more visually interesting, and is now published quarterly, containing local news and information to all households. We have also understood the need for publicity through social media, and are grateful to the office staff who have taken this task on board and are making it work well.
The important Neighbourhood Plan is nearing completion and will soon be at the consultation stage. This work is vital for the controlled and careful development of our town up until 2026, and should assist the Council in resisting badly thought out new housing developments. It focuses on many areas of the town’s future development, and I would strongly advise all residents to take part in the consultation for the adoption of our Neighbourhood Plan. I would like to thank the previous Chair of Planning, Gwen Allison, for her excellent and sustained hard work in producing this Neighbourhood plan, and also our Planning Consultant Colin Johns and Gillian Ellis King, and all others who contributed to this major piece of work.
Traffic continues to be a major headache for all the residents of town. This year, following a survey by our MP, Michelle Donelan, we have focused on four areas that need to be addressed. These are :- pedestrian safety, traffic speed, air quality and provision of parking. The Town Council has been having discussions with Councillor Philip Whitehead of Wilts Council in terms of a way forward for our traffic issues – he has recommended the formation of short, medium and long term goals for the improvement of traffic in our town. I would stress that these issues are the responsibilities of Government and the Highways Department of Wilts Council, and as a town we have neither the expertise or, crucially, the budget, to act without these partners. However, the CatG group, chaired by Councillor Mike Roberts, has been successful in recommendations for parking restrictions being introduced in various areas of town to assist residents in congested roads. Substantive bids have also been achieved to introduce safety railings on Conigre Hill and potentially in Tory and Middle Rank. Walls have also been repaired in Tory and in Westbury Gardens. There will soon we hope be the introduction of a 20 mph speed limit on some of the roads surrounding our schools, and consultation has just taken place. A great deal of work has been done by Councillor Pam Hyde and other Councillors to achieve this safety measure for our children, and it is hoped that further 20 mph areas will be phased-in in the future.
We have had no major flooding this year (I hope I do not speak too soon!). However, we have a wonderful team of Community Emergency Volunteers (CEVs) who are geared up to provide assistance of all kinds in the event of a flood or other emergencies. They have recently been able to purchase a van for community volunteering use, and I understand our group is the envy of many towns. I would like to thank them for the invaluable work that they do, particularly the organiser Paul Robertson. The Town Council are continuing to talk to the Environmental Agency about flood protection, and have earmarked a sum to contribute towards this from this year’s budget.
The Colonel Llewellyn Palmer Trust has operated for many years to give grants to youth organisations and individuals under 25, for improvements to facilities or to help young people with their education, etc. This is an important Trust for our town, which has been administered for many years by Wiltshire Council and usually offers about £25,000 per annum for grants and awards. We have been working for several years now to get this Trust transferred to the administration of our local Town Council, and hope that everything will shortly be in place for this to happen. Local administration should hopefully enable a greater sum to be put forward each year for local groups and individuals to use. The CLPT has assisted with keeping the Frome Road Youth Centre open, and has funded a Youth Worker for our Youth Club.
The Town Council continues to offer funding to local events and organisations. This year we are introducing a twice yearly date at which applications to the Council must be presented. This should ensure a fairer distribution of available funds and assist our budgeting. As usual we continue to support the wonderful Wiltshire Music Centre, our arts organisations and festivals, etc. As well as our annual grant to the Music Centre, we also agreed to sponsor a concert which included 70 of our local amateur musicians and singers, a wonderful evening and a great showcase for the WMC. We have bought six large umbrellas this year for use in Lamb Yard and other local events. We made a grant to the Business Community to host their first annual business awards, and were delighted to be present at such a glittering evening. The range and scale of talent and innovation in our business community is amazing, and we hope to support them as they continue to become a strong and forward thinking force within Bradford on Avon.
The May elections happened earlier this month, and we now have a new Town Council. I have found the last two years as Mayor both interesting and challenging. Some of our former Councillors stood down as Councillors this time, and I would like to thank them, and all other Councillors, for the hard work they have done during the last year. Achievements happen slowly, and are usually the result of really strong effort and persistence on behalf of Councillors and our Town Council Staff. I would particularly like to celebrate the long term Council commitment of Janet Repton, who is a former Mayor and has now retired after 25 years as a Town Councillor. Her enthusiasm, knowledge and understanding of Council matters will be very much missed. I would also like to thank our Town Clerk, Sandra Bartlett, who has worked tirelessly on behalf of the Town this year, and also the team at the Town Council offices for all their hard work and enthusiasm to ensure that things progress smoothly. I would also very much like to thank Councillor Gwen Allison for everything that she has done this year as Deputy Mayor. I think we have been a successful team, and a good illustration of how people from two different political parties can work together without any problems! Gwen has been a great support to me, and her wisdom and enthusiasm in all areas of Council work has been much appreciated. We have together considerably increased Bradford on Avon’s attendance at other local civic events, and it has been very informative to discuss Town Council work with other Council administrations. We have had an interesting and, at times, a very challenging year. The challenges will undoubtedly continue, and I hope that the new Council will be able to work well together to achieve some major benefits for Bradford on Avon.