This has been an unusual year by the standards of several past. Many people, and an almost new council, have been involved and much good work has been and is being done in what is one of the most popular and sought-after parishes in the County. The chair was taken by Colin Groom for the first five months and I thank him for his good works last year. As I intended doing a little less, I should have been aware of the frying-pan/fire syndrome when I retired from being a District Councillor. That job was a comparative doddle to this one.
I would like first to thank all our Councillors who have carried out many and varied tasks, all of them efficiently and willingly. Many of us were completely new to the Council and a very steep learning curve was negotiated. Also, and especially I mention here, Mr Borrett who has smoothed negotiations in District and, particularly, County offices.
Sadly we have seen the departure of Colin Groom for health reasons after long and distinguished service; Mark Tasker and Merryn Walters after shorter periods and most sadly Eva Marsh after very long membership. She had held some fifteen offices in the fabric of this Parish and she will be much missed. It was my pleasurable first duty to introduce Eva when she unveiled the new village sign, something I know she was very proud to do. I am quite sure Eva will still be organising things and people wherever she may be.
During the year many exciting things have happened and projects been tackled. I shall not go into detail, as much more is available on the website and in Parish Council Minutes. Notably the following items have been discussed and dealt with;
The end of July saw the Creation of the Community Plan Action Group (CPAG) with its eight committees (of many people not otherwise on this council) addressing different areas of Village interest and activity. I was chair for the inaugural Public Meeting on 28th October it was great to see more than 70 villagers take an interest in the activities being taken as a result of the Village Plan of last year. There will be many positive outcomes from this extensive and thorough work.
The lease of the Millennium Wood Extension from Norfolk Property Services; the wood has recently been planted up with suitable trees under the guidance of Mark Tasker. Access has been improved and it is already a popular walk in reasonable weather.
The Safe Route to School has been taken further forward and current negotiations with the Highways department will see developments in the near future. The most recent meeting with the County officer was just yesterday afternoon.
Negotiations with the County Council have arrived at an agreement to purchase the new Village Green, to be accessed from Spencer's Close. This will relieve pressure on the Playing Field and provide much-needed open space near the middle of the village. The funding of this project is the subject of on-going actions which will be developed in the coming weeks. We are setting up a new community charity called The North Elmham Diamond Jubilee Green charity with the specific aims of raising the money to help buy the green and to develop it as a community resource. Martin Phillips is looking into the costs of setting this up.
In November I was approached by landowner Mr Michael Goff with an idea for expanding the Community Farm. The members had expressed to us that they had not got enough land for their purposes and would like more if we could find it for them. Mr Goff thought it would be possible to arrange a swap of some land owned by the Annie Marie Smith charity with land owned by him to the north of Eastgate Street. It was a similar proposal to one made by Simon Thompson many years ago when he was at Foxburrow Farm. On that occasion the proposal was rejected unanimously by the allotment holders who were not prepared to move. I feel that the current proposals could lead to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity which we ought not to miss out on.
With hindsight I regret that I did not make it clear to parish council, at the start, what was on offer, and this set incorrect rumours flying. As soon as I had serious discussions with Michael Goff and emphasised that the allotments could not be moved and that the land just taken on by the Community farm was not likely to be available either, the discussions paused.There may well be discussions between Michael Goff and the Church and Townlands Trustees about a consolidation of their land elsewhere, much of it outside the parish, but that is not within the remit of the Parish Council.
We have a very active Diamond Jubilee Team which is organising the Eastgate Street Party and other events in June. You may have seen our local engineering firm is well into village beacons and details are available on the website and in the magazine.
We obtained LEAF funding for assessing and seeding community energy action. New build properties will have to incorporate many systems for saving energy in the future, and some funding is available for upgrading older buildings too. The report will also be available to all on the website.
Your Council takes part in and supports various schemes for the benefit of the community including the River Wensum SSSI, Stewardship schemes, Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty; English Heritage, and the Environment Agency for Conservation Areas and sites of possibly Neolithic, Roman and Saxon periods. The Cathedral Ruins long predate almost anything similar in Norfolk and are a great attraction to tourists and historians. We help maintain these and repair the street lights, playing field and pavilion. We are shortly to adopt Equal Opportunities and Child Protection Policies.
Every totally voluntary member of this council puts in much work to keep the village up to the high standards you expect for the rates we all pay. I thank each and every one here for their contribution on your behalf. It is always dangerous to name anyone on these occasions but I would particularly thank my Vice-chairman for his unstinting help with the budget and financial aspects of this job; and the Chairman of the Community Plan Action Group who has had particularly heavy work-loads in this year in relation to the land-matters which have been and are continuing to require many hours of dedication. I look forward to helping the new officers in the new Council year.
Lastly – none of this would be possible without the professional and co-operative way our 'paid hand' Kevin Webb carries out his duties as our Clerk.
Thank you, everyone.