Cllr Ray Georgeson, speaking notes for Otley Town Council AGM presentation of the Annual Report and Financial Outturn Summaries
Monday 14th May 2018 at Bridge Church, Otley
Town Mayor, Honorary Citizens, distinguished guests, fellow Town Councillors, Ladies and Gentlemen.
A warm welcome from me to the Otley Town Council Annual General Meeting and thank you all for coming. My pleasant duty is to present to you the Town Council’s Annual Report which I am honoured to do, recording at it does another year of sustained effort and progress. This will be the fourth occasion upon which I have had this honour. As to whether it will be my last, only time and the electors of Otley will tell and they will have their say next year. It’s a huge privilege to serve in this role and I certainly hope to continue to contribute.
I’d like to start by placing on record my own thanks to outgoing Town Mayor Cllr Nigel Francis. There’s little more that needs to be said at the end of Nigel’s record breaking fourth term as Town Mayor other than to thank him again for his service and to wish him well in his future endeavours, wherever they may be.
Otley Town Council has an overall responsibility for the wellbeing of our local community and the town we all live in. While our statutory responsibilities are modest, the Town Council plays an important role in promoting the best interests of the town, working in partnership with the many local organisations that share our love for the town and providing an important point of contact and network for our community.
This Town Council organises its work around four areas of focus:
- Promoting local trade and tourism
- Improving our environment and living spaces
- Leading healthy lives and promoting wellbeing
- Ensuring good council governance and administration
This year, we have highlights to report in each of these areas, based on the allocation of a current budget that charges you £1.64 a week for a Band D household (£85.07/year). This year, having made provision last year for planned investments through the Investing in Otley Fund, the increase in precept was held to 2.9% (just under inflation) and ensures the Town Council works effectively to deliver in those four work areas.
In the areas of trade and tourism, we have:
- Continued to deliver the Tourism Strategy (together with our partners from Otley BID, Otley Chamber and Otley Town Partnership for which we are very appreciative). This supports a range of promotional activities and events designed to encourage visitor numbers;
- Continued to sponsor events that draw visitors to the town, such as the Otley Cycle Races, Otley Folk Festival and summer bands in Wharfemeadows Park as well as provide support for major events such as the Tour de Yorkshire which are also major attractions;
- Supported the special event promotion this year for the Chippendale 300 Anniversary, celebrating the tercentenary of the birth of Otley’s most famous son, Thomas Chippendale – a series of events for all ages take place this June, including a free birthday party on June 2nd, concerts, lectures, walking trails and more – all on the visitotley.co.uk website;
- Agreed to support and promote our first Town Crier’s Competition (alongside the Folk Festival), following the extraordinary success of our Bellman Terry Ford winning the National Town Crier Competition last year at the end of a winning season which included Ely, Halifax, Nelson and Huddersfield as well.
- Continued to offer support and finally welcomed Otley Boats back onto the River Wharfe last summer. Despite the setback of losing the boats in a freak weather and river incident, we are again very pleased to see that teamwork in Otley has won and Chris Thornton is back afloat this Spring.
- We co-sponsored the annual Otley Business Awards which does a great job of showcasing business success in Otley and is well supported. We also started work on a new Otley Business website to encourage local shopping and local business to business activity, in conjunction with the Otley Chamber.
In the areas of environment and our living spaces, we have some positive highlights:
- We launched our Otley Town Caretaker last June, supported by our partners at Otley BID. Our Town Caretaker works 16 hours a week, concentrating on improving further the cleanliness of our streets and alleys, tackling the weeding, dirt and detritus that the existing LCC services don’t have the capacity to deal with. We continue to seek ways to tackle persistent dog fouling and are making progress in identifying some sites for free poo-bag dispensers. All ideas on this issue are most welcome!
- We have maintained our programme of monthly litter-picks and general clean-ups, both in the town centre and in each of the Town Wards. Town councillors and other community volunteers have joined forces with the help of Otley in Bloom (who we continue to support) including a strong turnout of thirty volunteers for the delayed Great British Spring Clean in April. These events are now advertised on a monthly basis across Otley, you are always welcome to don a high-vis and join us. The efforts of the town, led by Otley in Bloom and supported by us were rewarded with Silver Gilt in the National Britain in Bloom Competition, a massively prestigious award which was well deserved and a great credit to OIB and everyone that rallied around.
- We have continued to support the efforts to find solutions to the flooding problems of recent years. The Oxford University funded community modelling research was completed and provided to the Environment Agency who are now in the detailed planning of the Otley Flood Alleviation Scheme. We have supported their work, providing our accommodation for drop-in information events and maintaining close liaison. It remains an issue of great concern that we support the efforts to resolve.
- We started to implement our Cycling Strategy for Otley. Cycling isn’t just about the Lycra-clad super fit, it needs to be more about every day, routine journeys to school, work or shopping that can substitute for short car journeys and reduce congestion and pollution. Our Safer Cycling in Otley leaflet was launched and promoted with a series of guided rides – we will do more this summer, cyclists of all ages welcome.
- We maintained support for the Wharfedale Greenway project which this year successfully completed the detailed feasibility work for Phase Two Pool-Otley. We now have all the technical work done for Pool-Burley and a bid has been submitted to the Rural Development Programme for England for £2m capital funding.
- We launched a new community energy group with strong support and interest. This group is being supported by the Town Council to take forward the ideas in the community renewable energy research we finished last year. The first major project the Town Council is supporting will be the launch of a Green Doctor scheme (with Groundwork Leeds) this autumn, providing energy saving advice, simple insulation measures and support advice in changing suppliers and generating renewable energy. It will be available for all Otley residents but will seek to focus efforts on those households deemed to be in ‘fuel poverty’ and in more need of support.
- We responded to growing public concern about single-use disposable products, plastics and litter by launching our own reusable, refillable coffee cup. The My Otley Cup is available for purchase from the Town Council and several outlets in town and in its own way contributes to reducing disposable cup waste – I estimate that Otley residents generate around 500,000 disposable cups every year, with very few of these getting recycled or composted. Reuse is always better, so please join in!
- Work on securing all funds needed for restoring the Navvies Memorial has continued, now that the Town Council has resolved to take responsibility for the restoration and ongoing maintenance, thereby resolving years of uncertainty and delay. I hope this can be successfully delivered during the next year.
- Last but most definitely not least here is the ongoing production of Otley’s Neighbourhood Plan, which has again made huge progress this year and is well on the way now, thanks to the Herculean effort of the NP Steering Group, our staff and consultants and members of the community who have given a lot of time and attention to this process. The Plan covers a wide variety of topics identified by local residents as important such as Protection of Local Green Space, New Green Space, Protection of Natural Heritage, Protection of Built Heritage, Affordable Housing, Surface Water Flooding, East of Otley, Protection of Community Facilities to name but a few. It will be important to the shaping of the future Otley and I again urge all residents to get involved where they can and certainly participate in the forthcoming consultations and eventual referendum next year. After the latest draft is approved by Full Council this June, it will be submitted to LCC in July and after Examination in October a final version should be ready for a Referendum (a legal requirement) expected in May 2019 and may well be held to coincide with LCC and OTC elections (although this decision is one for Leeds City Council to make).
Moving on now to leading healthy lives and promoting well-being, bearing in mind there is quite a crossover with environment work such as promoting cycling/walking, we have the following highlights;
- We maintained our commitment to support the Otley Citizens Advice Bureau but this was then superseded by the decision of Leeds CAB to close the Otley service in its present form and relocate a revised service in the Westgate Surgery. The Town Council maintains an offer to Leeds CAB to support them in promoting this service if required and had offered free accommodation in our offices, as I am sure the community is aware.
- We provided community grants to a wide range of organisations and interests in the town across a range of activities including sporting, cultural and community work all of which contribute to the good health and well-being of the town. Our Consolidated Community Fund distributes grants throughout the year and as ever, it is a good idea to plan ahead and get your grant application in front of the Community Development Committee sooner rather than later in the year – funds are available this year for community organisations.
- We maintained our interest in promoting the Investing in Otley Fund for longer-term investments in community infrastructure. This year, two significant applications are now in the pipeline, both of which have received ‘in principle’ support from the Town Council and are now moving to the detailed application stage. PHGS and Sport Chevin are planning a multi-sports all weather pitch available for Otley’s sports clubs and community groups, and OAOP plan to refurbish the Old Peoples Welfare as an Older Peoples Hub. The combined potential cost of these projects represents a £1 million investment in our community of which around one-third may come from the Council – loan repayments for which have already been provided for as we reported last year. We look forward to seeing progress on these developments this year.
- We supported the launch of the community IT project in Ashfield, based at the Weston Community Centre which will provide access and training in IT for old and young alike as well as a friendly and accessible environment for gaming and for training. Cllr Peter Jackson is always looking for volunteers if you would like to help.
In the last of the four themes, council governance and administration, I can report that:
- Our request to LCC for a review of the number of Town Councillors, with a view to reducing this from 20 to 15, has been approved by Leeds City Council and comes into forces at next year’s elections. It reduces each of the town’s five wards by one Town Councillor. n 22nd June, to which all parties are invited to offer their views.
- We maintained regular reporting of expenditure back to Committees and closer monitoring of budget out-turn. Most budget lines had on-target out-turns or identified accruals where projects are carrying forward into the next financial year. Our Reserves remain in a good position at £130,000.
I can also report that we maintained all our ongoing long-term commitments, including:
- Our ten allotments sites with more than 250 plots;
- Our award-winning town centre Toilets which continue to be a significant but popular cost responsibility;
- Provision of Christmas Lights and a ‘switch on’ event, again costly but popular;
- Maintenance of our town centre assets such as the Buttercross and Jubilee Clock;
- Maintenance and enhancement of the Gallows Hill Nature Area backed up with a great effort and support from volunteers from the Friends of Gallows Hill and Open Country – with new investment this year in two new ponds (paid for by the Council0 and a dipping platform (paid for by the Friends);
- Maintenance of our statutory responsibility as a consultee on Planning matters providing scrutiny of planning applications submitted to Leeds City Council – a job that takes time and patience.
In conclusion, I hope you agree that we have make good progress this year. As you know, Town Councillors are volunteers in the community just as most of you are. Much of the work is low-profile, routine and requires day-to-day support – it’s not just meetings about interesting projects that benefit the town, but the routine of checking Planning applications, supporting the necessary functions of the HR and Audit Committees, scrutinising grant applications – and picking up litter amongst other things! It’s a job we all do with great love for the place we live and in good faith alongside you our friends and neighbours.
We don’t do it alone of course and we remain grateful for the collaboration and great support of the many business, community, cultural, sporting and religious and voluntary organisations in the town that make up the fibre of our community. We try our best to work in partnership and look to others to reciprocate -and look forward to more of this in the year that comes.
I would like to end with my personal thanks to my fellow Town Councillors (from all sides) for their hard work and good fellowship again this year and to our staff team, ably led by Suzanne Kidger and Dr Jason Knowles for their diligence and professionalism, well demonstrated again on many fronts throughout the year.
With that, I conclude my report which I am very proud to commend to you.