07 February 2016

Lost Property






A couple of important items on the agenda for New Mills Town Council meeting on Monday 8 February are connected to each other.  These are item 8: ‘NMTC assets - working party’ and item 14: ‘Rock fall at the Torrs’.

Why are these items connected, and why are they important?


Asset Register

Dealing with the ‘assets’ issue first, every council in England is required to maintain an accurate register of its assets.

Always a good guide to these matters, Arnold-Baker on Local Council Administration states as follows:
‘An effective accounting system provides an accurate record of the origin, quantity, whereabouts and disposal of the council’s property and money in a form which will make mistakes obvious’. (1)

The specifics of this where real estate (2) and leasehold property are concerned are set out in Governance and Accountability for Local Councils - A Practitioners' Guide (England) (3).
‘The Council is required to maintain an asset and investment register… internal audit will be interested in seeing that there is evidence that the continuing existence of owned and managed assets is checked on a regular basis.  In a larger council the register may be hand written, typed or computer produced; the essence is the same in that the system should be verified on a regular basis.’

Does New Mills Town Council have an accurate and complete asset register, so far as land is concerned?  The answer would appear to be ‘no’.  The proposal to form an assets working party is aimed at remedying this.

Presumably the specific goal of this working party will be defined by the council, and will be something along the lines of making NMTC’s asset register accurate, complete and accessible to council at all times.

Future New Mills councillors should not be faced with the difficulties and uncertainties that the current town council administration is having to deal with in various real estate matters.


The Torrs Riverside Park

Two recent events in the Torrs have brought the issue of an inaccurate and/or incomplete asset register into focus once again.

One was a man foolishly permitting his out-of-control dog to drag him off a path, and the other is a minor rock fall, also involving a path.

In the first case, the man appears to be seeking to drag New Mills town council into his dog’s adventure. That would be with a view to a nice compo payout.   In the second case, looking at the rain forecast before a nice walk through the Torrs should not include having to check for percentage likelihood of falling rocks.

At the last town council meeting (27 January 2016). Cllr Derek Brumhead was asserting that ‘New Mills Town Council definitely owns the Torrs’  HPT Editor was pointing out that if the Torrs came into the ownership of New Mills Urban District Council through a Compulsory Purchase Order, then the Urban District Council’s abolition on 1st April 1974 meant the property was not owned by the town council but by High Peak Borough Council on that date.

Subsequent to this respectful, well-mannered difference of view Land Registry documents show that on 29 July 2008 High Peak Borough Council transferred its ownership of six patches of land in the Torrs to NMTC.  The Land Registry document states; ‘The land (i.e. the six pieces transferred) became vested in High Peak Borough Council by a deed poll dated 4 April 1973 pursuant to the Compulsory Purchase Act 1965…’

Upon examining Land Registry's title plan of the transferred land, there is potentially good news and bad news for the New Mills town council.

Runaway Dog Man’s incident seems to have happened on a path not in the ownership of the town council.  Conversely, the rock fall happened in an area owned by the town council, although also according to Land Registry the pathway onto which future rocks may fall is not town council-owned.

Both of the pathways are part of the same ancient route.  In essence this is a cart track between Rock Street in the town centre and the Rock Tavern public house on Wirksmoor Road.  The path passes the remains of the old mill at the junction of the Sett and Goyt rivers.

According to the Land Registry title plan, this route is explicitly excluded from New Mills town council ownership.

The bits of land transferred by High Peak Borough Council to NMTC equate to a small proportion of the Torrs Riverside Park.

In these further Torrs ownership investigations, the key documents that now need to be urgently obtained include the Torrs Compulsory Purchase Order 1973 (or a similarly titled Order) and the search of the whole of the Torrs Riverside Park land area on Land Registry’s index map.  The index map contains all titles registered by Land Registry.

Locating as many other original deeds and documents as possible will also be beneficial in this detective work.



Notes referred to in this article:

1.  9th Edition, paragraph 17.1

2.  The term ‘real estate’ is not an Americanisation. In English law it specifically means freehold land.  Buildings etc standing on that land are included, although this is subject to any lease granted by the freeholder.   The definition of ‘real estate’ is included here simply to distinguish it from other forms of property that must also be on the individual council’s asset register like parks vehicles, trailers, town hall pianos etc.

3.  Page 36 of March 2014 Edition


25 January 2016

Budget and Precept Meeting of New Mills Town Council - Early Start Time





The most important meeting of town and parish councils in any given year is usually the meeting to set the council's budget.  Okay, in some previous years the most important meetings in New Mills have been how to deal with a dishonest former town clerk and her bad influence on other council staff members.  But this year it's about the annual budget.

It is as a consequence of this upcoming meeting that the council tax collecting authority is notified how much money the town or parish council wants to raise by way of council tax from the local public.

For those interested in local government in New Mills, High Peak, please note that this year's budget-setting meeting  of New Mills Town Council is on Wednesday 27 January 2016.

The start time is 6:30 p.m, rather than the usual start time for ordinary council meetings.




17 December 2015

Notice of Councillor Vacancy on New Mills Town Council Website




HPT Readers' Christmas Competition


The following legal notice, placed on New Mills Town Council's website on or about 15 December 2015, contains an error.  Can you spot it?

(scroll right down to the bottom of the page for the answer)



NOTICE OF VACANCY

NEW MILLS COUNCIL-WHITLE WARD

NOTICE IS HEREBY GIVEN THAT DUE TO THE RESIGNATION OF A COUNCILLOR, A VACANCY HAS ARISEN IN THE OFFICE OF COUNCILLOR FOR THE PARISH COUNCIL.

IF BY JANUARY 2016 (14 DAYS EXCLUDING DIES NON,AFTER THE DATE OF THIS NOTICE) A REQUEST FOR AN ELECTION TO FILL SAID VACANCY IS MADE IN WRITING TO THE RETURNING OFFICER AT THE ADDRESS BELOW BY TEN ELECTORS FOR THE SAID PARISH, AN ELECTION WILL BE HELD TO FILL THE SAID VACANCY,OTHERWISE THE VACANCY WILL BE FILLED BY CO-OPTION. IF AN ELECTION IS CALLED IT WILL TAKE PLACE NOT LATER THAN 11th MARCH 2016.

DATED 15th DECEMBER 2015

SIMON BAKER
RETURNING OFFICER
MUNICIPAL BUILDING
GLOSSOP
DERBYSHIRE
SK13 8AF











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Answer:

The correct notice gives the specific date in January 2016 which is the deadline for electors to write in if they want a by-election.

The version on the NMTC website* merely says "IF BY JANUARY 2016..."

(This article published at 15:35 on 17 December 2015.  Hopefully the Notice on NMTC website will be rectified shortly afterwards)

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UPDATE

*Upon checking the NMTC website again on the day after the above article was published, the specific deadline date has been added to the notice, making it correct. The deadline for any ten electors from ex-cllr Gaskell's ward to demand a public by-election rather than allow the council to co-opt is 8 January 2015.



24 November 2015

Casual Vacancy at New Mills Town Council




We understand that Josh Gaskell has resigned from New Mills Town Council.

Assuming this information given to HPT is not a hoax, the vacancy will be notified to the public by the returning officer at High Peak Borough Council.

If ten electors in Mr Gaskell's ward demand a by-election then one will be held.  If ten electors do not come forward then New Mills Town Council will go through a co-option process.

Seasonal note:  the bickering over the last NMTC co-options has not even ceased, and they were in the summer.  In four weeks' time it will be the winter solstice.

To quote Bob Cratchit, who so far as is known has not stood for New Mills town council, "a Merry Christmas to you, sir!"

12 November 2015

Is this two bald men fighting over a comb?


As a public service, the following two comments, anonymously received by this website in the last 24 hours, are published.

The reason for publication is for local council taxpayers to see the extent and the costs of the internal strife currently within New Mills Town Council:

"The Chair does NOT take advice from the Clerk! If he did the Council would not be in the mess that it is in especially regarding the cooption process and all the nonsense that has occurred since.  He may be ok running visit new mills but he's shown, by his actions or inactions, that he is no good running the Council."

"The clerk is constantly undermining the chairs authority, she apparently didn't even tell him she had summonsed David lamb as a councillor, which he is not, to last Mondays meeting, she should be working with the chair not against him. It maybe time for her to go for the good of new mills. She has no loyalty or connection to the town."


There is no need for this problem.  But it is being continued ad nauseum by two factions on the council, neither of whom seem prepared to give way on this matter.

If neither the Chair nor the town clerk/proper officer is going to leave the council, or is going to give way on this specific issue, then is there any other practical solution than now obtaining the expert opinion of paid legal counsel (barrister) specialising in town/parish council law?

The issue is:  Is David Lamb a member of New Mills Town Council?

Both sides should put their own arguments independently, in writing, to the same specialist counsel. The town council's solicitor would find the appropriate barrister to give the independent opinion.

If possible, both sides should agree in advance to abide by counsel's opinion.  Even if that is not possible, then the counsel's expert opinion should still be sought by the council.

If the losing side is not prepared to give way after receiving counsel's expert opinion, then  they would lose all credibility. The winning side would then be able to go to the court, if the losing side is not prepared to give way, and seek an Order that Mr David Lamb is or isn't a councillor (according to which of those two positions has expert counsel's opinion on its side).

Alternatively, a new simple co-option (or election) of one councillor should now take place, with the council ward specified in advance.  The mechanism of this would need the approval of High Peak Borough Council.

It has already been six months since the local elections that gave rise to this situation.

How much longer is this paralysis of New Mills Town Council's public business - expensively paid for by the local council taxpayers - going to go on?

In this situation, there are costs of doing nothing.









10 November 2015

The Business of New Mills Town Council





New Mills Town Council ('NMTC') takes in over £300,000 of public money every year.  The editor of High Peak Transparency is just one of thousands of council tax payers in the town - in HPT Ed's case to the tune of almost £1,000 this year.  Many people who read this site are in the same position, sometimes with higher council tax bills.  All the town councillors bar one are in the same position.

Having placed the above central facts on the record, what follows is a neutral description of what happened at last night's duly convened New Mills town council meeting.

Councillors, public, and council officers assembled in the council chamber in time for the 7:30 pm meeting start time.

Cllr Sean Whewell, the chair of the council, opened the meeting by welcoming councillors and the public.

David Lamb interrupted as soon as Cllr Whewell started speaking.  Cllr Whewell told him to wait until the public participation section.  This is when councillors and the public can speak on all matters that are both on and not on that meeting's agenda.

The public participation section is always very near the start of every council meeting.

David Lamb would not wait.  He interrupted the chairman and said that the meeting was illegal.  The basis of this assertion was not stated, or at least was not heard by this observer.

A slightly worrying fact here is that the copy of Arnold Baker on Local Council Administration with David Lamb's papers was an out of date edition.  Only time will tell if this proves to be relevant to whatever the issue was.

The council meeting being unable to continue in an orderly fashion, the chair suspended the meeting.

Sean Whewell and David Lamb then went outside the chamber.  The council's town clerk/proper officer went with them. David Lamb came back and asked for witnesses to what was happening, and Cllr Rebecca Harman and a member of the public went out in response to this.  Cllr Barry Bate followed later.

At 7:57 pm the town clerk/proper officer came back in, collected her papers, and went out again.

At 8;07, Cllr Sara Atherton said, in broad terms, that there is a dispute here and it needs resolving. What is happening is both impractical and is disrespectful to the public.

HPT Ed adds that a large part of the council's business is effectively paralysed.

At 8:11 Cllr Whewell came in the chamber and stated that David Lamb has left the building.  The town clerk/proper officer has left the building.  There is a council meeting scheduled for 17 November, and this agenda will be carried over.

At 8:20, after various informal interactions between the public and councillors, the get-together was over.


Did I mention that New Mills Town Council ('NMTC') takes in over £300,000 of public money every year?


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Note re comments:  Anonymous comments that are abusive are unlikely to be published.  Anonymous comments that make dubious assertions are unlikely to be published.  The best way to guarantee getting a point published is to provide your name.  Either put it on the comment itself, or make the comment anonymously while emailing HPT letting us know who is making that particular comment. If you ask for anonymity then your name will not be published.

email address:  highpeaktransparency@btconnect.com



02 November 2015

Courthouse dispute - High Peak Borough Council's viewpoint



The following is the official High Peak Borough Council statement about the government's insane idea of closing the High Peak's only magistrates' courthouse.  It is on the HPBC website:



In a formal response to the HM Courts and Tribunals Service consultation on future provision in England and Wales, the Council said it did not support the proposal to transfer the services to Chesterfield and felt that flaws in the consultation process left it open to potential legal challenge if a decision was made to close the Buxton facility.

Councillor Emily Thrane, Executive Councillor for Corporate Services, said: “This Council fully understands the pressures on publicly-funded bodies to make the most efficient use of their resources, to adopt modern technologies and the respond to citizens’ expectations but we cannot support the proposed closure of the Buxton court for several reasons.

“The assessment of the court premises is inaccurate and there is no evidence that the geography and climate of the High Peak or its transport arrangements have been properly taken into account. This has resulted in disproportionate weight being accorded to the unsuitability of the premises and inadequate weight to the unsuitability of the transport arrangements to Chesterfield.”

Magistrates have estimated that around two-thirds of the court’s business comes from Glossop, New Mills and Hayfield following the closure of the court in Glossop some years ago.

Councillor Alan Barrow, Chair of the Council’s Corporate Select Committee, added: “There is only one option presented if the court in Buxton closes – transfer to Chesterfield – and the only information on travelling times is for journeys from Buxton. This ignores the possible impact on the significant communities in the North West of the High Peak.

“Travel information in the consultation document states that 73% of journeys by public transport would take over two hours. Comparison with the data relating to other closure proposals shows these travelling times to be unusual and extreme but no attention has been drawn to this or the potential for this to act as disincentive to people attending court.”


14 October 2015

Magistrates Courts Problems Again



At the last New Mills town council meeting Cllr Ray Atkins alerted those present to a disastrous scheme proposing to close all of the area’s nearest Magistrates’ Courts.

In case local people think it will only affect crims, and therefore is not important, be aware that Family Justice and Child Safeguarding matters are often dealt with in courtrooms provided by these courthouses.  Council tax claims and consequent requests by struggling families for time to pay are also matters heard at the magistrates courts.

Our High Peak MP spoke on this emerging serious issue in Westminster Hall at 3:55 pm on 13th October 2015.  Here is an extract from the debate, which was about the closure of the Burton-on-Trent court:


Andrew Bingham (Con, High Peak):

I would have spoken in the debate, but it is only a 30-minute one, so I will settle for making an intervention. My hon. Friend is making a powerful point on behalf of Burton. I am here on behalf of Buxton court—there is only an r and an x between Burton and Buxton and when I saw the debate title I thought, “They have picked my court debate.” Does he agree that the consultation document on Buxton court in my constituency of High Peak is riddled with inaccuracies, errors, mistakes and inconsistencies that render it—I am sorry to have to say this—completely and utterly useless?

Andrew Griffiths (Con, Burton):

While there might be a letter or two between my hon. Friend and I, there is nothing between us in our view of these consultations and the validity of the evidence they contain. They are riddled with mistakes; he is absolutely right. If the Minister and her colleague are to stick to their word, and if this consultation is to be based on fact and on evidence, they must reconsider the glaring inaccuracies in the proposals.

Heather Wheeler (Con, South Derbyshire):

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing the debate. As the people of South Derbyshire also use Burton magistrates court, will he assure me that in his strong defence of keeping the court open, he will bear in mind the importance of South Derbyshire folk’s not having to travel to Cannock, which would be utterly ludicrous?

Andrew Griffiths (Con, Burton):

I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention and her strong support for this campaign. She, like me, understands the impact of this court closure on our constituents. It is true that closing Burton magistrates court would leave nowhere in the south-east of Staffordshire that is suitable for, for instance, family work, which I know she is particularly interested in.

Let us get down to the nitty-gritty of the facts that the Ministry of Justice is using to defend this proposed closure. The proposal contains travel times for each court. The Tribunals Service has included a chart detailing what percentage of people will have to travel 30 minutes, 60 minutes and so on. In order to work that information out, it is necessary to know where each individual is travelling to and from. In other words, it is necessary to know what the new local justice areas will be and where the replacement court will be. Of course, the new local justice areas are not established in the proposals. That information is not there, so the Department is sticking its finger in the air and guessing.
It transpires that many of the estimated times are completely inaccurate. The Tribunals Service has included estimated times from Burton magistrates court to each of the replacement courts. As the proposal itself admits, not everybody lives in Burton town centre. For instance, my constituents would have to travel into Burton town centre and then get another bus to the replacement court, which would add a considerable amount of time. For the purposes of today, I have worked out travel times simply from the centre of Burton, where the magistrates court is.

Let us look at the travel times we would be considering for my constituents to reach Cannock magistrates court. By car, it would be 45 to 55 minutes, but of course, only
52% of my constituents own a car. That means that almost half would be forced to use public transport.

The Minister will be shocked to learn that we are talking about a travel time by bus of one hour and 56 minutes to get to Cannock, including two changes, and one hour and 53 minutes to return. That is a total travel time of three hours and 49 minutes. It is hard to see how that is access to local justice. By train, it is little better; it is one hour and 51 minutes to get there, including one change, and one hour and 49 minutes to return—a round trip of three hours and 40 minutes. That includes, importantly, a 60-minute walk time, because there is no other way of accessing the court. Derby, of course, is much quicker, with a total travel time of one hour and 32 minutes. The other proposal is to send court work to north Staffordshire justice centre, which is in Newcastle-under-Lyme. By car, that would be a 45-minute trip each way, but by bus, it would be three hours and eight minutes to get there and two hours and 57 minutes to get back.

Andrew Bingham (Con, High Peak):

This has an eerie ring of familiarity about it, because the document for my court in High Peak shows that 73% of public transport journeys for my constituents will take more than two hours. That is to Chesterfield, which is not practical. This is another example of inaccuracies and a lack of thinking in the consultation.

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Editor's note:

The full debate about these disastrous Magistrates’ Courts closure proposals can be found on the excellent They Work For You website.

Link:  http://www.theyworkforyou.com/whall/?id=2015-10-13a.86.0&s=speaker%3A24748

13 October 2015

Initial Report on New Mills Festival 2015


Toyah be thy name

At last night’s New Mills Town Council meeting (12 October 2015) Cllr Barry Bate, who is a member of the independent Festival Committee, presented an initial report to council about the 2015 New Mills Festival.

Although this site is mainly concerned with politics and local politics, the New Mills Festival regularly attracts readers' comments.  Also, it has an economic and public impact on the town. Therefore, the following is an edited (by HPT) summary off Cllr Bate's report to the council meeting:


Visitor numbers

According the Festival organisers, the most visited events of the annual Festival (and the biggest draw for visitors from outside New Mills) are:

1)  the lantern procession;

2)  the arts events (which includes the art trail and open weekend);

3)  the live music.

An approximate number of attendances over the 2 weeks is 18,000.


Economic impact on New Mills

The initial economic benefit estimate is £5.00 spend per head per visit. This would give an estimated total turnover for the festival of £90,000.

A conservative guess (i.e. by the Festival organisers) would be that at least 75% of this stays, immediately, in the local economy but then re-circulates because of the multiplier effect. Using an average spend of £10 per head per visit, that would produce an estimated total income to the local economy of £180,000.

In addition there were approx £12,000 of art sales.

There were quite a lot of ticketed events were the price of the ticket alone (before people buy their drinks) was more than £5.00.

Funding brought into the town via grants from other agencies was approximately £2,000. This doesn't include funding from Town, Borough or County Councils.

The Festival organisation’s turnover (revenues) this year is forecast to be £28,000, with a spend of approx £25,000. There is an estimated overspend of £500.


Future planning and development

Aims for next year are to attract more funding from bigger funding pots via two main streams:

a) community funding via various streams including Lottery, and:

b) funding for the arts component via an Arts Council application.

In order to continue to raise the profile of the whole of the two week festival the Committee will continue to book nationally/internationally known artists.

Regarding the lantern procession, the aim would be to keep numbers attending the lantern procession as they are. Coping with higher numbers would be difficult, although it is almost impossible to try and promote the general events during the two weeks without people finding out about the lantern procession element.

The Committee is also considering expanding the arts component of the festival as this is the second biggest draw and could, potentially, attract a considerable amount of funding.

A major objective is to work on a marketing strategy with other agencies in town and, thereby, to maximise the collective impact.

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Following publication of the above article, the following email was received from Lyn Bannister, one of the New Mills Festival leading lights:

"Dear Editor,

"Thank you for your very accurate report, just a couple of tiny edits. The figure for art sales and the comment about ticketed events were part of the rationale for using the £10 per head per visit equation (estimate rather than equation - HPT Ed) so would be part of the totals quoted not in addition.

"As an aside, the amount of work involved for the volunteers to run such a big event has become a huge task over the years and we are actively seeking extra pairs of hands, especially with the huge amount of admin required during the year.

"We are a very open and friendly group who very much welcome constructive feedback. With this in mind and in view of the comments that have been posted on this site in the past can we suggest that only named comments should be posted?

"We have never been approached directly for information by previous contributors and are unwilling to get into debates anonymously. However we are more than willing to discuss anything that people feel relevant good or bad. The festival is run in a very democratic way, all decisions are made by the committee and as such we have very broad shoulders.

"Yours etc... "

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The above two contributions represent broadly the official Festival view.  Below are a couple of images giving an unofficial flavour of the town's centre during the last night of the enjoyable Festival: