Issued: 3rd May 2020 Status: Chairman’s Informal Commentary

  1. Government Advice

Please continue to comply with and support the UK’s response by following Public Health England’s advice and information on the Gov and NHS websites: www.gov.uk and www.nhs.uk.

2. Free Help  Combe Martin  (FHCM) – Community help if staying at home

The response from the volunteers of FHCM continues to impress and confirms what a caring community Combe Martin is. The Helpline appears to be working well and the volunteers have reached out to our neighbours in Berrynarbor, Kentisbury and Trentishoe, although their demand remains thankfully low.

All callers to the helpline are reminded that this help is specifically provided to protect the vulnerable and high risk individuals and those that have to self-isolate. If you request a prescription then you have to be in to receive it and that could be anytime during the day. Please respect that the volunteers are exposing themselves to an increased risk in supporting you.

3. Some Good News

The Parish Clerk has been successful in obtaining COVID -19 grants to support the work of FHCM and CMPC. There will be a ‘virtual’ meeting called to discuss the distribution and purchases required from this money. Volunteers are reminded to keep records of their mileage. District Cllr Yvette Gubb continues to deliver sterling support within the village and ex-Cllr Julia Clark is helping Cllrs with cover on the Helpline.

FHCM Foodbank is providing an essential service and parishioners should not hesitate to use it. These are exceptionally difficult times and people should make use of the help offered.

As Chair of CMPC, I would like to thank Alex Martin for the very personal and inspirational message she posted on the ‘What’s on Combe Martin Facebook’ page. The positive content is a real inducement for others to make use of the support.    

4. Helpline: How to ask for (non-medical) help

The Parish Council Office telephone number 01271 883403 will be available from 10:00 to 17:00hrs every day (*including Saturday).  

The office is shut but the Council e-mail info@combemartin-pc.gov.uk is available; however, there may be a delay in reading the messages.

*Sunday has had zero use and cover will cease, but be kept under review.

5. Requests for help

COVID -19 requests to the Parish Council will be passed to Free Help Combe Martin for action. It is important to recognise when using this service that this is a ‘neighbour to neighbour’ relationship and the normal requirements of data protection and DBS vetting cannot apply. In using this service you understand and agree to your information being shared with volunteers.  The Council will note any concerns raised and look for an alternative means of support if needed.

6. Business Support

Bryan Cath, Chairman of Combe Martin Business Association (website: www.visitcombemartin.com) continues to trawl the Govt helplines for relevant information and help for businesses.

7. Some Current Parish Council Issues  

The Parish Council has had to introduce ‘virtual meetings’ and the next monthly CMPC meeting will be on Monday 11 May at 7 pm using the Zoom platform. Any member of public wishing to join the meeting must inform the Clerk by Midday on Friday the 8 May.

7.1 Virtual Extra Ordinary CMPC meeting, 7pm on Wednesday 29 April 2020 using the ZOOM platform.

Due to the current difficult operating conditions, CMPC had to call an Extra Ordinary meeting to make some significant decisions. Detailed minutes of this meeting will be produced in due course, but the salient points are listed below:

7.1.1. Arrangements for suspension of Standing Orders and the delegation of powers to the Clerk.

CMPC agreed contingency arrangements for the Clerk to assume control of the operation of the Council, should the COVID -19 crisis warrant it. This is a legal requirement to ensure the lawful operation of the Council. For example if CMPC becomes inquorate due to illness.

7.1.2. Personnel Committee Issues – routine Employee matters.

Due to the Personnel Committee not being able to meet due to the COVID -19 restrictions, there was a delay in approving and adopting the NDC Family Friendly Policy for CMPC employees. It was agreed to back date its implementation to the 1st January 2020.

7.1.3. Financial Impact of COVID-19 on CMPC Operations and Business Contracts. 

The main reason for the meeting was to the deal with the dire financial situation of the Council and to identify initial steps that meet the legal requirement and continue to support the community and our employees.

  • Receive an update on the 2020-21 budget and detailed forecast from the Finance Officer.  CMPC agreed to accept the update on the budget.
  • Receive a verbal report from the Audit Committee and any actions therefrom.

The Council is facing a significant deficit in its income and will simply run out of money if no action is taken. The legal and government position is not 100% clear and the local Authorities continue to seek clarification. However it is clear that we have a duty to spend the precept on delivering what services we can to the community. CMPC have implemented actions to meet this requirement and will have to take further actions in June/July depending on the ‘lockdown’ situation. We cannot rule out a future total shut down of CMPC and all that it entails. 

  • Reserves

CMPC considered the specific impact on the Council’s reserves and tried to determine how this will be used or protected during the COVID -19 crisis. These are uncharted waters and we are still seeking clarity on this, as there is no protection if we run out of money.

  • Short-term staff and other cost saving measures and their implications.

CMPC considered the guidance for local councils during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, in particular any financial assistance and relief for local authorities, and the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Two members of staff are to be furloughed as soon as it is operationally convenient. The situation remains under active review.

  • Rent Deferments

CMPC has agreed to write to a number of village organisations regarding ‘rent holidays’ pending the success of any COVID-19 grants obtained by them. CMPC remains committed to supporting the social infrastructure of our community.

7.2. Beach and Bathing Water Quality – Dog Restriction on Combe Martin Beach.

This item was included on the agenda because there was and is still no decision from the Environment Agency (EA) on Bathing water sampling and the Combe Martin beach dog ban is in force from the 1st May. 

There has been a considerable amount of mis-information on this Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) for a number of years. Clear legal advice from the NDC legal team, confirms that the Dog Control Orders transitioned without alteration into a PSPO and remain in force until October 2020.

As the unrestricted use of the beach for locals for exercise at this time is important, CMPC needed to consider how to achieve this. Similar to the Devon County Council Highways approach to yellow lines enforcement and CMPC not charging in car parks, CMPC recognised that the PSPO cannot be lifted, but enforcement of the actual ban of dogs on the beach need not be enforced.

  • CMPC agreed not to enforce the ban of dogs on the beach, whilst the lockdown restriction remain in place. However, dog ban enforcement can be reinstated by the Clerk/Chair within 24 hours of a change in restrictions.

After passing this motion, out of courtesy, CMPC contacted NDC and asked them to confirm their agreement and co-operation on the decision made.  

Would parishioners please note that the CMPC action is only concerned with the ‘presence of dogs on the beach’ and makes no comment on any other dog control or COVID-19 requirement which remain extant.

8. Public Space Protection Orders PSPO (NDC)

In addition to the Dog PSPO, on which there is further information below. Another important consultation seems to have slipped by without much community comment, probably due to the COVID -19 disruption.

This particular PSPO consultation has been divided into four parts:

  • PART A Intoxicating substances
  • PART B Public Urination
  • PART C Anti-Social Behaviour
  • PART D Aggressive Begging 

As Chairman, I have provisionally responded on behalf of CMPC, and my observations will be discussed at the 11th May CMPC meeting. In essence I have questioned the evidence supporting the implementation of a PSPO and specifically identified that the introduction of a PSPO covering Alcohol, would negatively impact on social activities and major events such as Carnival and Earl of Rhone. For example it could limit your freedom to sit on Cobblers and drink a bottle of wine as the sun sets. (Other drink options are available!). CMPC are seeking further information on how NDC sees the consultation and decision process working. 

  • All of the Dog control PSPOs lapse in October 2020 unless the authority (NDC) undertake consultation and introduces new PSPO(s).

For many reasons the control of dogs by PSPO(s) is divisive and evokes strongly held views. Given the level of community interest and the fact that dog ownership has increased, CMPC are expecting to agree a comprehensive village wide consultation on all of the existing dog controls to feed into the NDC consultation.

9. Existing Car parking Permit Holders

The issuing of car park permits was stopped on Wednesday the 18th of March on the instruction of the Chair. Charging within the CMPC car parks was suspended on Monday 23rd March. Any person holding a valid car park permit which was valid on the 18th of March 2020 remains valid and need not do anything regarding renewal until after the ‘lockdown’ period has ended and CMPC has been in contact. The issue is on the 11th May CMPC meeting agenda.

In the longer term there is a need to review the whole issue of car parking within the village.

10.  Councillor Vacancies and suspension of Co-Option

The process of co-opting new Cllrs on to the Council is as previously announced suspended until the restrictions on public meetings is lifted. The most recent vacancy provides an opportunity for an election in May 2021 (if requested) and there is a conversation to be had with the Returning Officer regarding all of the vacancies. This is an agenda item 11th May CMPC Meeting. 

11. CMPC Strategic Plan 2020

The Strategic Plan is completely stalled and requires a rethink depending on when CMPC starts to receive an income again. The exception being the money already earmarked and ring fenced for the football club.

Prior to the ‘lockdown’, Martin Worth and Ken Mullins were helping CMPC with a number of issues and we will look to pick these up when things return to the ‘new’ normal. There will be the need for a whole range of conversations for the future of our community.

  • The concerns over flood resilience and protection and bathing water quality remain as priorities and CMPC is extremely disappointed by the lack of a positive EA response to our latest correspondence. This will be shortly posted on the web site for information.
  • The paper detailing the reason for CMPC withdrawing from the sale of the Parade toilets will also be posted shortly.

12. General

Despite these difficult times for the community with unusual pressures and continuing uncertainties, CMPC continues to function effectively and is being well supported by District Cllr Yvette Gubb and DCC Cllr Andrea Davis, including the positive support of MP Selaine Saxby in limiting potential reputation damage to the Community.

In all circumstances a clear record of all committee meeting agendas and decisions will be made available on the Council’s website at www.combemartin-pc.gov.uk.

Full accountability and transparency are the watchwords.

This informal briefing is the responsibility of:

Cllr David Woodbury

Chairman of Combe Martin Parish Council.

If you have any concerns over the content of this briefing, please inform the Clerk, Tel: 01271 883403 or on the council e-mail address: info@combemartin-pc.gov.uk