Cllr Ray Georgeson MBE, Otley Town Council AGM presentation of the Annual Report & Financial Outturn

Otley Town Council Admin Council Information, News, People

Monday 15th May 2017 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 2017 which I am honoured to do, recording at it does a good year of hard work and progress across many aspects of our work.  More of that very shortly.

Firstly, I would like to record my own tribute and thanks to outgoing Town Mayor Cllr Ian Jackson. I know that Ian has thoroughly enjoyed his term of office as Town Mayor and taken part in many community events with great enthusiasm and his usual quiet good humour.  I know too that the honour of being Town Mayor has meant a great deal to him and he has been a fine civic ambassador in every respect.  Thank you for your great service this year Ian and I wish you well for the future.

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 £1.59 a week for a Band D household (£82.64 year):

In the areas of trade and tourism, we have:

  • Completed the development of a new Tourism Strategy (together with our partners from Otley BID, Otley Chamber and Otley Town Partnership for which we are very appreciative);
  • As part of the new Strategy, appointed specialist help to support us in promoting the town to visitors more widely – within a one-hour radius drive as well as more broadly; devised a new brand ‘Make a Day of It” and revamped the Council’s website to embrace the new message, as have OTP with the Visit Otley website so there is a unified look and feel to the town’s external image in a jointly funded package supported by BID and OTP. Our specialist PR help have had some early successes, with mentions of Otley as a visitor destination in the Sun, Daily Mirror and Sunday Times.
  • Continued to sponsor events that draw visitors to the town, such as the Otley Cycle Races and Folk Festival;
  • Launched the new Otley Ambassadors initiative and appointed several Honorary Ambassadors charged with the pleasant task of promoting the town wherever they go in the UK and beyond and keeping an eye out for opportunities that might benefit the town;
  • We alongside colleagues from BID and LCC have persevered to support Mr Chris Thornton (Otley Boats) in his project to restore a rowing boat hire service to the River Wharfe. You will have seen from recent reports and work down at the river steps that this project is nearly – but not quite – there and everybody involved hopes to be able to announce a start date sooner rather than later, but there are still some safety compliance tasks to finish, but we look forward to the return of boats on the river this summer.

In the areas of environment and our living spaces, we have some positive highlights:

  • We have focused on improving further the cleanliness of our streets and alleys by identifying the need for additional cleansing services to tackle the dirt and detritus that the existing LCC services don’t have the capacity to deal with. Otley BID are assisting with funding this and our new part-time Otley Town Caretaker has been appointed and will start work on June 5th. Look out for him and his barrow coming your way soon! Specific projects to come will include extra cigarette litter bins, including a cigarette butt recycling programme with Terracycle and also more work on tackling dog fouling – we have had presentations about successful initiative in Barking and Dagenham using DNA registration and Public Space Protection Orders and will examine this further, as well as other options we may have for delivering more enforcement and educational service ideas like free poo-bag dispensers and PooBalls (as demonstrated!).
  • We have organised a regular series of 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 for the Great British Spring Clean in March. These events are now advertised on a monthly basis across Otley, you are always welcome to don a high-vis and join us. We are all mobilising for a huge effort this summer in advance of Britain in Bloom judging in August – it is a huge honour for Otley to have been shortlisted by Yorkshire in Bloom to represent Yorkshire and I hope you will all rally round.
  • We have supported the efforts to find solutions to the flooding problems recently faced, as partners in the Oxford University funded community modelling research that was announced last year. This project has worked with a group of local residents and specialist flood modellers/academics to better identify the issues and possible solutions. The group has nearly finished its work and will be reporting later in the summer.
  • We have started to turn more attention to promoting safer cycling and walking and have produced a new 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. We are just completing work on new promotional leaflets for safer cycling routes in Otley and supporting the efforts to launch a Bike Library in conjunction with PHGS and Otley Cycle Club (to make bikes more accessible to those who don’t have one).
  • We maintained support for the Wharfedale Greenway project which this year successfully completed the detailed feasibility work for Phase One Burley-Otley. This is now close to ‘bid ready’ and we have taken good advice from the West Yorkshire Combined Authority on how best to complete the business case work needed to start applying for capital funds to deliver this Phase One.
  • We committed to undertake feasibility research on the potential for community renewable energy in Otley and this research has now been completed. We have a hefty report containing many ideas on how to invest in renewables for community benefit, and to build on this will convene a meeting for interested parties in July with the desire to encourage the Otley community to form a new community energy group to take some of these ideas forward (which we will support). This area is not easy now as the Government keep moving the goalposts and reducing the support previously available for community renewables, but there is still more we can do. A starting point is likely to be energy efficiency – reducing energy demand and bills for those for whom energy costs are a high proportion of their income – and we will progress a project on this in the next few months. I welcome anybody with an interest in getting involved to contact me or Cllr Mick Bradley for more information.
  • We made further efforts to try and resolve the challenge of restoring the Navvies Memorial, which has been hampered as a result of confusion over ownership and ongoing liability. I’m pleased to say that the efforts of Greg Mulholland and myself in our approaches to Network Rail resulted in an offer of £6,000 towards restoration costs from the Railway Heritage Trust, subject to satisfactory resolution of the ownership and liability questions. We are now in discussion with the Parish Church and Diocese, advised by Leeds City Council legal team, to resolve these matters and seek to facilitate the full restoration. A future Council meeting will discuss the appetite of the Council to take on the responsibility for future maintenance of a restored Memorial based on the outcome of the discussions. Watch this space!
  • Last but most definitely not least here is the ongoing production of Otley’s Neighbourhood Plan, which has progressed in the past year. Several of you in the room involved with this task know the painstaking detailed effort that has been made by members of our community to progress the Plan. In 2016, consultation on Informal Site Allocations was completed and the consultation on the Pre-Submission Plan is due in September this year and we hope this target will be reached. Following comments, a final Plan Submission will be made to LCC in early 2018 and after Examination there will be a Referendum in early December 2018 with the Plan hopefully coming into force in January 2019.   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.

Moving on 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 the previous commitment made to support the Otley Citizens Advice Bureau which provides a valuable service for residents in need of advice on support.
  • 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. Although no applications were made this year we have maintained the provision in our budget in order to be ready to invest at the right time. Some of the funds held in reserve this year were utilised to support other well-being activities, such as the necessary £10,000 repairs to the Outdoor Gym flooring in order to make this safe again for use.
  • We are supporting a new 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 still looking for volunteers if you would like to help set up this project.

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 agreed and features in the Community Governance Review they are presently undertaking. A first stage consultation was announced and opened last week and closes on 22nd June, to which all parties are invited to offer their views.
  • The Town Council made a clear statement by means of a Resolution about our future accommodation needs which was approved unanimously by the Council in March. It noted that the constraint of the fixed lease on our Orchard Gate office (to March 2023) without any prospect of renegotiation meant that we would not be in any position to move until that time. We judged it important to make this clear during the continuing discussion about the future of the former Civic Centre building and the options the owner Leeds CC is exploring for the future use of the building. The Council maintains the desire to see the building returned to community use and continues to communicate this message to Leeds City Council.
  • We put in place a new system of regular reporting expenditure back to Committees this year and closer monitoring of budget out-turn. Most budget lines had on-target out-turns with an underspend in Community Development (partly the unallocated Investing in Otley provision and some grants fund underspend) which was placed in Reserves. Toilet income increased 20% against budget and reserves now stand at £140,000.

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;
  • Maintenance of our statutory responsibility as a consultee on Planning matters providing scrutiny of planning applications submitted to Leeds City Council.

In concluding this Annual Report by mentioning Planning, it reminds me that much of the work of Town Councillors (as volunteers) involves a lot of day-to-day support activities – 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 warp and weft of the 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 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.