Admit it, you saw the less than inspiring title of this blog and decided it would be boring. After all, how many council meetings feature on your social calendar? Did you even know the public can attend them? I didn’t, until I saw an advert for the annual Didcot Town Council meeting. In the interests of this blog I decided to pop along and find out more.
What does Didcot Town Council do?
Town councils are the first layer of local government and have specific responsibilities. These include managing allotments, parks and playgrounds, bus stops, litter bins and cemeteries. They can comment on planning applications, albeit they don’t make the final decision. They also award grants to local charities from a limited set of funds.
The council runs a number of sub-committees where the nitty gritty of their business is discussed. These include finance, environment and planning. In an attempt to further my knowledge I skimmed through the recent committee meeting minutes beforehand. Apart from a 123 page finance report. That was a step too far!
Didcot Town Council annual meeting
The annual meeting isn’t an official town council meeting. Instead it’s an opportunity for residents to quiz the leader and some of the councillors.
The meeting started with the standard formalities. I was impressed that the apologies, previous minutes and annual reports were all covered within the first 10 minutes!
Questions from the public
This was the main event of the evening. There were around 35 residents present and I can sum up the questioning theme in one word: traffic.
Residents advised that nothing is done about cars parked illegally or inconsiderately on the roads surrounding the station. The leader replied the council had applied to run their own civil parking enforcement but this is a slow and bureaucratic process. In the meantime residents should continue to report illegally parked cars, and any threatening behaviour, to the police.
Another parking theme related to the Orchard Centre. Retail workers cannot use the Orchard Centre car park due to the four hour time restriction and no re-visits rule; this results in them parking elsewhere. These rules also apply to the new car park on Lower Broadway, where residents have received unexpected parking tickets. The town council advised they’d sent a letter to Hammerson, who manage the development, in January. Perhaps it’s time for them to follow up the lack of response.
There were non-traffic questions too. I asked about the list of Didcot garden town projects (or lack of), there was a request for more dog poo bins in the town, an update on the history display boards in Great Western Park and a comment on the expense of Ladygrove Lakes work.
But the questions kept returning to the core issue of increased traffic as a result of development in Didcot and the surrounding areas. Residents raised concerns around congestion in Lower Broadway, pollution from idling cars, speed monitoring and, er, parking again. Councillors talked about recent funding for improved infrastructure but this isn’t a silver bullet.
The meeting ended at 8:40 pm after a heated exchange between two councillors about their status, one affiliated to a political party, one an independent. Without being privy to the background of this spat I would guess this is a long running dispute.
What did I take away from the meeting?
I certainly learnt a lot about Didcot’s traffic woes. We all need to take some responsibility for this and, where feasible, reduce our reliance on the car for local journeys. I’m as guilty as anyone else, popping to the shops in my car, when I could walk.
Aside from this, I discovered the powers of the town council are limited. For example, the lack of a street light beside the cemetery and the state of the footpaths on Ladygrove are both county council issues. Similarly a request for a grit bin in the Orchard Centre area has to go to Hammerson for consideration.
I also realised that things can take a long time to progress. In part this is due to the hoops the council have to jump through. For example, the business case for civil enforcement of parking in Didcot needs to be approved by the Secretary of State. But the history display boards for Great Western Park were mooted at least five years ago. Why have these taken so long to come to fruition?
Lastly, I was surprised there weren’t more councillors present. As this is the main event for townspeople to raise issues it was disappointing that only around half of the town’s 21 councillors came to the meeting.
Overall though an interesting event and one I recommend to all residents.