What’s Corsham Town Council for! Councillor Ruth Hopkinson, Chairman of the Town Council; David Martin, Chief Executive; and Councillor Philip Whalley, Corsham Town Ward ~ notes of the talk on 27th January 2017
Michael Rumsey started the proceedings with a tribute to Sally Fletcher who had been the secretary of the Corsham Civic Society [CCS] for some years. Then he introduced Ruth Hopkinson [RH], Phil Whalley [PW] and David Martin [DM] of Corsham Town Council [CTC].
RH introduced the talk by stating that the objective of CTC was to make Corsham a place where people wanted to be and that the CTC is non-political and has 20 town councillors.
DM then stated some key facts about the history of the town council. The first parish council election was in 1894 and there were 15 seats (there are 20 now) for a population of 4000, or 1 in 100 of the population (today it’s 1 in 650 of the population). England has 80,000 councillors and spends about £1billion p.a. Corsham now has a population of 13,000, has 5 wards and has a budget of £750,000 p.a.
The purpose and responsibilities for Corsham (and villages) are based on the following precepts:
- Improve economic, social and environmental well-being
- Manage facilities and services
- Manage finance, for which it has an administrative team which puts 15,000 items through the accounts
- Governance – through the committee and council (some 70 meetings per annum)
- Reception and general enquiries (eg. even about UFOs!)
- Street-naming (CCS have had an input into this)
- Grant-giving – 20-30 groups p.a. are supported
- Lettings of the town hall eg. weddings, functions, community events etc.
- Planning Applications: meetings are held every 3 weeks and the CCS has an input into this [see p. 18]. A Strategic Plan was adopted in 2013 and the council has tried to have more influence through the preparation of a Neighbourhood Plan
- Training and Development Plan
- Emergency Plan: this is updated every 6 months and a Flood plan is currently being worked on.
RH then explained that there are three standing committees, two of which directly affect those at the meeting:
Properties and Amenities
- There are 130 allotments which have a huge waiting list. The charge is £40 p.a. per allotment.
- The town council owns Arnold House which includes 2 residential flats but these don’t cover the cost of keeping up the listed building.
- Public recreation areas – the council works with WCC and Corsham Youth Council.
- There are a number of capital projects eg. cemetery, playground, and some of the churchyards eg. maintaining war memorials, memorial gardens (opposite the old post office).
- Town Hall – the upkeep costs are huge
- Mobile CCTV
- Toilets: maintenance costs taken over from WCC when they discontinued their upkeep
- Maintaining the look of the town (gardens etc)
- Railway station
- Working with Wiltshire Council Highways and Transport – funding is matched for improving the town eg. bus shelters, cycle routes
CTC have a Creative Strategy to make Corsham a cultural hub and to this end have:
- placed a commemorative plaque about the WW1 hospital in the town hall
- given a grant to The Pound Arts Centre with whom they have joint ventures
- circulated a newsletter inviting suggestions for improvements and ideas (they are trying to open up the town council to proposals though there were disappointingly few suggestions)
- for health and well-being, a defibrillator has been located in the town hall; public toilets are being maintained; community awards were launched in 2011 as a way of saying thank you to all those who do voluntary work for Corsham
- organised events eg. street fairs (for instance, a new food festival is to take place on 17th June) and the town hall works closely with the MOD, Bath Spa University and Corsham Digital Institute
- free car parking has been instituted (the town council together with Martingate pays for lost revenue)
- a marketing plan for tourism has been instigated
- promoted the Twinning Association
- organise the Corsham Youth Council and associated activities: representatives from each of the schools meet for consultation on anything that has an impact on them eg. transport.
PW reported on:
- Localism ~ town councils are well-placed to meet this need and are keen to do so. The 2011 Act gave power to local councils and CTC is planning its Strategic Neighbourhood Plan. The Planning Committee is a full committee and is advisory but has some real weight eg. the Peacock Road application for 50 houses to which 100 local residents objected and overturned the Wiltshire Council planning officers recommendation.
The CCs Chairman thanked Ruth, David and Phil for their interesting and enjoyable talk and then invited questions from the audience.
The following questions were raised by the audience:
- What are the plans for Arnold House? RH answered that a viability plan that CTC carried out howed that it did had not meet any of its aims and it was expensive to maintain (it could cost be up to 10% of its budget). They are looking at other uses for it but are definitely not asset-stripping.
- What is the population of Corsham? DM answered that in 2011 it was 13,000. Since then Rudloe has moved to Box but there has been some increase elsewhere.
- What is the council’s involvement with the Mansion House site and Digital Corsham. PW answered that the planning application by WC came up recently and was not supported by Corsham. WC are now going to re-jig the application. RH then explained that this was part of a wider Swindon and Wiltshire Local Enterprise Plan. For the encouragement of growth, Corsham is identified as a potential digital industries hub, much of which is centred on the MOD and a number of small, local enterprises. Wiltshire Council and other stakeholders have to more closely define what the Mansion House is to be used for.
- Parking – there isn’t enough. DM answered that there is plenty of long-stay parking but people just don’t want to pay.
RH, DM and PW are clearly very committed to and enthusiastic about Corsham – to keeping its history, character and beauty, its prosperity, its sense of community and all the things that make Corsham a lively and enjoyable place to be in.