The annual parish meeting 2017

The parish meeting was well-attended (about 30 people) and met the objective of having an opportunity to hear about and discuss village matters in a sociable, indeed convivial, setting.

Reports were received from 11 village organizations:

Report from Brightling Village Trust
Report from our County Councillor
Report from Brightling Cricket Club
Report from Dallington School
Report from Darwell Area Conservation Society
Report from Brightling Flower Show
Report from PCC/Churchwardens
Report from our District Councillor
Report from Stoolball Club
Report from Village Hall
Report on Village Market

There was a brief overview of what the parish council has been up to over the last year, some information on plans for reducing noise from Gatwick planes, and then an update on the Village Action Plan.

A few highlights: the village welcome packs have been issued to newcomers and are judged to have been very useful.

We have a full set of adopters for our eight repaired and refurbished signposts (I will put the list on the village website shortly).

The annual litter pick was very successful with every single road being cleared, although there is some suspicion that sometimes the bin lorries themselves allow litter to leak out.

Getting people to adopt stretches of road for the purpose of reporting blocked drains, potholes etc is work in progress. Reporting such problems, including fly-tipping: “self-help” is encouraged: the village website at contains detailed instructions for how to report such problems in the most effective way. The website itself will get a presentational makeover within the next month or two.

Utilities such as water and electricity: we still need to collect hard data in the form of date, time, duration and description of each problem, before we can approach the companies.

Affordable housing is on the back burner for the time being.

A couple of points on the traffic calming project: firstly the data showed a pretty small number of lorries; the vast majority of the traffic is cars and vans; secondly, calming of traffic can be achieved without the introduction of potentially suburbanizing features such as bollards or more signage clutter. There were also some valid (in my opinion) concerns about data collection. These have been addressed urgently, and I have responded directly to individuals who contacted me.

Reminder on the defibrillator. The defibrillator is of course portable: you can take it out of its box and take it to the person who needs it. Don’t hesitate to go and get it if the occasion arises. It does not require training to use it: it talks to you and tells you what to do; and it cannot cause harm if used on someone who does not need it. A second defibrillator is on its way – to be installed at Darwell Hole – and once this is in place I will see if we can arrange for another demonstration during a Village Market, to draw attention to them and give people confidence to use them.

We discussed the phone box, which now belongs to the parish. An imaginative suggestion was made during the meeting: to use it as a miniature local museum. I am hoping that a specific proposal will come forward which the Parish Council can consider.

The felling of trees is not illegal or wrong provided licences have been obtained from the Forestry Commission where necessary, and the licences are then complied with. If we have firm evidence of non-compliance with this process then we can take the matter up, but equally, without that evidence we can’t.

We also discussed the planting of non-autochthonous species in ancient woodland and here we await a response from the Forestry Commission.

Extra help in power cuts

Irrespective of who you pay your electricity bill to, your power is actually supplied by UK Power Networks: they own and run the physical cables and infrastructure.

They now have a scheme where anyone who might have special difficulties during a power cut can register for priority support.  This can include elderly people, young children, someone less mobile or someone with a health condition.  Just having one person of pensionable age in your household entitles you to regster.

Once you have registered, you get a priority phone number and regular updates on the power cut.  If the power cut goes on for any length of time you could get hot food, hot drinks and hot water, mobile phone charging and more.  In fact, they say “In certain scenarios we may also offer a free hotel overnight and transport to the hotel

Those who rely on power to run medical equipment, such as dialysis or breathing apparatus, would also receive additional help.

Registration involves completing a short questionnaire. If you have family or friends, particularly those who are not online and who meet the criteria, you can register on their behalf if they are happy for you to do so.

Get more information about the priority scheme, and register online.

Dial 105 in a power cut.  This is the new national number that automatically connects you to the power company.

Finally, if you do have a power cut, do record the details (date, time, duration etc) in the “Leave a reply” box below.  This will enable the parish council to build up a picture of the level of power cuts and take action if necessary.

Keep Brightling tidy

The annual litter-pick, organized by David Gasson, will take place on Saturday, 8th April 2017.

If you would like to take part, please meet up outside the Village Hall at 9:00 am and bring black bags and gloves.

If you cannot make that day but would still like to take part, please ring David on 01424 838481 and he will allocate you an area to clear.

Annual Village Meeting

The 2017 Annual Village Assembly will be on 10th April, starting at 7:30 pm in the Village Hall.  Like last year there will be refreshments (including wine and soft drinks) and nibbles and like last year, I think we will eschew formality in favour of an open forum for discussing what’s going on in the village.  We tried this format last year and the general feedback was people liked the more informal, social tone of the meeting, while still managing to have a useful discussion.  As before, reports from Village organizations will be available as written leaflets so that people can look at the ones that interest them, and it is an opportunity for organizations to recruit volunteers/participants/players etc and generally publicize themselves.

A year ago the Action Plan committee presented the ideas for the new Village Plan.  The Annual Village meeting will be a good chance to ask ourselves how far we have got with this, and what we need to do in order to maintain momentum.

I do hope that as many Brightlingers as possible will come to this meeting.  If nothing else, it should be an opportunity to chat to your neighbours – or meet new ones – over a glass of something.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Broadband – scrutiny and contract 3

In February, I discovered that ESCC actually gave the go-ahead for a third phase of procurement activity (“contract 3”) at the cabinet meeting on 15 November 2016.  However, this involves no new spending whatsoever by ESCC.  All the money is coming from two other sources: central government (again not new money, but underspend on contracts 1 and 2) and clawback from BT – essentially where BT were paid “too much” for contracts 1 and 2 because they underestimated demand – this is known as “Gainshare”.  So far I cannot see anywhere in the council minutes that tells one how much money will therefore be available for contract 3 – and without knowing that it is hard to predict how significant contract 3 will be.

On 23rd February 2017, I actually appeared in front of the scrutiny committee to present my evidence in person.

It was an interesting, thought not really pleasurable, experience.

I was told at the beginning that half an hour had been allocated to my evidence.  I had been led to expect a series of questions from the chairman and members of the board but that was not what transpired.

They had asked to see all my evidence package in advance, and then the chairman started off by thanking me for the evidence that I had submitted: they had all read it and understood it and he didn’t want to waste the meeting’s time by simply going through what I had already said.

This was a disconcerting start because no-one had any follow-up questions or comments on what I had said.  (I felt like a stand-up comedian giving a matinee performance in front of a sparse audience of Japanese tourists!)  Fortunately I did have a contingency plan: I expanded, with examples, on my theme that while they may have achieved much with contracts 1 and 2, they had done a very poor job on communicating with their ultimate end-users: us.  In either direction: neither communicating outwards nor listening.

As I say, there was absolutely no engagement or question or debate from members of the scrutiny board, but there was one refreshing exception: someone called Stephen Frith, who had a badge saying “Commercial adviser” and who I understand to be a BDUK employee who acts as a liaison between the e-Sussex broadband team and the BDUK organization.  Unlike the other members of the board, he was open and engaged with what I was saying and provided some useful feedback and information.

This is where the good news comes in.  Contract 3 will still be within a BDUK framework, but I got a hint that they have learned from contracts 1 and 2, and contract 3 will be more intelligent than the previous ones.  Apart from the fact that it will be open to competing bidders (and they can award contracts to more than one supplier), there will be more flexibility (within the BDUK contract 3 framework) to meet local needs and he mentioned a “points” system for evaluating proposals which will take into account the fact that there is more benefit when someone goes from 2Mbps to 10Mbps than when someone goes from 20Mbps to 28Mbps for example – he said this points system would be in the contract 3 procurement document.  it seems to me that if this is properly worked out, it would mean that suppliers had a positive incentive to do the “worst first”.

Stephen Frith also responded to one of my points, the apparent direct contradiction between this promise in the paper for the cabinet meeting of 15th November 2016:

    Clear visibility of which premises will be connected and when

and this statement in the procurement consultation that was opened the same day:

    an opportunity to substitute premises through change control where alternative cheaper premises emerge after the survey stage.

Stephen Frith responded that they recognized that “substitution” had caused significant problems during previous contracts, and they were going to handle it by allowing it only during the planning stage of contract 3 but not during the implementation stage, and that this would be in the contract 3 procurement documents.

It is hard to be sure what one has achieved by all this.  But I do feel moderately hopeful that BDUK have learned lessons so that the next contract will be a little more intelligent – and I think that the amount of “noise” that we have created around this issue does mean that ESCC will be forced to raise their game a little.

However, I don’t think we know what the timescales of contract 3 are, and I am not clear what the total budget is either, so we have a long way to go yet.

I do have one other observation about the meeting that I am not willing to put into an writing.  Perhaps there will be another way of communicating it in due course.

PS Since writing the above, the scrutiny report has been published.

{there is a cover document and then the main report is Appendix 1.