Central Ashford Community Forum
Minutes of Annual General Meeting held in the Centrepiece Church, Bank Street, Ashford
On Wednesday 25th October 2017 from 7.30pm
Trustees: Christine Green (Acting Chair), Emily Neighbour (Secretary), Malcolm Finch (Treasurer), Catherine Godard, Paul Fortnam, Sylvia Fairley, Popiraj Rai, Jean Roue, Kate Harris.
Also present: Brian Curtis (CAB), Justin Richards (Repton Connect), Mary Wiggins, Borough Councillor Graham Galpin, County Councillor Paul Bartlett, Betsy Heightman, Bob Shrubb (South Ashford Community Forum) and 12 members of the public
Apologies: Jim Davies, Jo Jowers (retiring Chair), former County Councillor Derek Smyth, Sue Billington, Community Relations manager, Hitachi
Police Report: the Police had been invited but no one had attended nor presented apologies. Popiraj Rai, a Trustee representing the Gurkha community, expressed dissatisfaction with this. He informed the meeting that the Gurkha community were very concerned that they had been suffering many burglaries and believed they were not getting sufficient support from the Police. A meeting recently organised with the help of CACF and Councillors Bradford and Galpin had been cancelled by the Community Support Unit. He was assured by Councillor Galpin and the Secretary that another meeting for the Gurkha community with representatives of the Police would be organised to take place in November and CACF would support Popiraj Rai to ensure this was not forgotten.
Acting Chairman’s welcome & opening remarks
Christine Green explained that as Jo Jowers had resigned as Chair owing to work commitments she would be taking on the role for the time being. She introduced the two speakers who would give presentations before the AGM.
Presentation by Brian Curtis, Training Manager, Ashford Citizens Advice Bureau
This is based on Church Road, opposite the Gateway. It is open five days a week but the opening times vary, please see website for details: http://ashfordadvice.org/ashford
CAB operates a drop in advice service to anyone who needs help, from teenagers to nonagenarians, given by volunteer advisors. Last year they saw 10,000 clients and offered advice on 14,000 matters, most common being benefits, debt, housing, relationships and work. They also give out food vouchers to those in need. He reported there had been an increase of clients of 20% in the last year. CAB is funded mainly by ABC and donations but was currently using reserves to make ends meet. They currently had about 60 staff, mainly volunteers. They were always looking for new volunteer advisors, no specific qualifications are required, but computer skills are needed and the ability to be open-minded and non-judgmental. Free training is provided, volunteers are expected to work for at least seven hours per week to justify the time and expense of their training. The Charity was also on the lookout for Trustees to help with the management of the service.
Councillor Bartlett explained that KCC offered a checking service for immigration matters for £65 and also suggested that the Kent Credit Union was a good place to go to borrow money if it was essential, there was an office in Tenterden and it was online.
Presentation by Justin Richards, Repton Connect
He explained that he represented Repton Community Trust which had set up Repton Connect to publicise the new community building approaching completion in Repton Manor, between Repton Manor School and Waitrose. Funding had been provided by the development of 6,000 houses in the area. It was a very eco-friendly building with triple glazing, solar panels, rainwater collection and underfloor heating. It was hoped that once opened, probably in mid-January 2018, it would be used for community services such as play groups, after school activities, adult education and suchlike. It would also be available for private hire subject to availability. The facility included a sports hall with a sprung floor and a high ceiling suitable for badminton, two meeting rooms and a kitchen designed for all users with worktops at different heights. There was also outside space which included a MUGA with LED floodlighting, a car park with 37 spaces, a large area which it was hoped would be used as a community garden, and a small area of woodland. He had already been in touch with Kent Wildlife Trust to discuss how best to manage this. He was planning to hold open days to publicise the facilities to ensure they were well-used as soon as possible. In reply to questions he said that the building had been designed after community consultation and had cost about £2 million to construct. It was suggested it could be used as a polling station. A full-time manager would be in place for at least the first year, it was not clear what would happen after that time. The fees for hiring out the hall had not yet been decided.
Minutes of the last AGM held on Thursday 30th June 2016
These were approved.
Councillor Galpin pointed out that sadly Borough Councillor Harold Apps had passed away in the summer. He was remembered as a very good councillor, actively representing Victoria Ward right up until shortly before his death at the age of 90.
We have been joined this year by Kate Harris. Also Betsy Heightmann has attended two meetings and has expressed an interest in joining us. They are both from the new estate built on the Old Ashford Hospital site.
Several Trustees have resigned this year
Matthew Forrest has resigned owing to ill health. Very sadly Brian Critchley, who was involved in setting up the Forum in 2004 and had been a Trustee since then, passed away tragically young from cancer this year, a sad loss to his family and the community.
Jo Jowers has resigned as Chair as she has returned to full-time employment but will remain as a Trustee for the time being.
Trustees have continued to comment when appropriate on significant applications in or adjacent to our area. Several Trustees have expressed their concern that so many of the new developments in town are flats, often many storeys high. Councillor Galpin defended these developments on the grounds that they provide relatively cheap accommodation, use the available land efficiently and bring more people into the town centre to support the businesses there. It was expected that when people had families they would move out of town to a house in places like Finberry and Chilmington Green.
Christine Green and I have represented CACF at the Town Team Steering Group meetings this year.
Kent County Council Rail Summit – we always send a representative to this which is held annually at the County Hall in Maidstone. Christine Green attended this year.
Other meetings attended by Trustees:
All Ashford Borough Council organised events:
Ashford Forum – for parishes and community forums; Urban Open Space Strategy Consultation Event
Heritage Design Strategy Consultation event; Planning Design Panel; Community Safety Unit
Parking Problems in Zone E: these have been slightly improved by a change to the signage in this area. Now vehicles can only park for two hours in the whole of the Zone. Before it was possible to move a car to another space in the zone and park for an additional two hours. This was exploited by a number of people working in the area. However, the problem of shoppers preventing residents from parking near their homes at peak times remains and there is no sign of an improvement in this situation. This is despite CACF carrying out a survey in 2016 which showed the difficulties experienced by residents, particularly in the more densely populated areas close to the town centre such as Kent and Sussex Avenues. Jean Roue expressed concern that commuters are parking in his road all day to avoid paying for parking in the town centre. They blocked the roads and could be quite aggressive. The Secretary said she had discussed the problems with Chris Miller of ABC who was in charge of parking in the town and it was hard to come up with any solutions which would not impact on another area in town. The fundamental problem was the great increase in car ownership.
Hitachi Funding – In January 2016 we were very fortunate that Hitachi decided to give us £1000 to support the local community. We are still looking at the best way to spend this money to best benefit the residents as all the ideas we have explored so far have been found to be too difficult owing to land ownership queries.[The Secretary forgot to bring the following which Sue Billington of Hitachi sent with her apologies:
I can see no issues with the wording of the Hitachi involvement with the forum in the minutes so happy for those to be approved. Again, we feel the forum is best placed to decide how to spend funds.
Things are pretty much up in the air until bids for contracts are decided. Southeastern plus others have submitted bids to run the train service in our area and a decision is expected early in 2018. Hitachi are hopeful to be chosen to continue to supply and maintain the High Speed element of the service. If that happens there are designs and costings prepared for an updated version of the 395 series of trains and we would wish to bring these into service as soon as they can be made. Operationally we have taken over a train manufacturer in Pistoia in Italy and so our manufacturing capacity there in addition to Newton Aycliffe should mean orders for trains completed quicker. It’s all pretty positive, just waiting for the green light of contracts being awarded. We appreciate the wait is frustrating for Ashford commuters but the legal process of contract awarding is a long one and out of our control.]
Treasurer’s Report & Presentation of Accounts
Malcolm Finch presented the accounts. There had been one transaction only since the last AGM, £25 membership fee for the Kent Federation of Amenity Societies.
Balances 1st April 2016 £1,413.24
Balances 31st March 2017 £1,388.24
Election of Officers and Trustees
The following Trustees were elected en bloc
Jim Davies, Jo Jowers, Emily Neighbour, Sylvia Fairley, Paul Fortnam, Malcolm Finch, Christine Green, Catherine Godard, Jean Roue, Popiraj Rai, Kate Harris, Siri Limbu and Betsy Heightmann
Acting Chair: Christine Green
Vice-Chair: to be announced
Secretary: Emily Neighbour
Treasurer: Malcolm Finch
Any Other Business
Several incidents of anti-social behaviour were reported in the town centre. Councillor Galpin would bring this to the attention of the Police and the Community Safety Unit.
There was concern that there had been a marked increase in litter in the Memorial Gardens since the College opened. Councillor Galpin said he would speak to the College authorities and increase litter picking frequency in the Memorial Gardens.
It was pointed out that there was no address on the agenda or minutes of the previous meeting. The Secretary would ensure that the contact information for CACF would appear on the agenda in future. Her telephone number and e mail address was always available on the website.
Prince Albert: this site remained derelict. Councillor Galpin was asked when the property was likely to be demolished. He replied that the planning application for a replacement building was due to be considered at the meeting in November.
Empty shops in the town centre: in reply to concerns Councillors Galpin pointed out that the increase in shopping on the internet meant that there were fewer reasons to come into town. In fact the vacancy rate in Ashford was currently quite low compared to the national average figure.
Chair’s closing remarks
Christine Green thanked everyone for attending and invited all to stay behind for a drink and networking.
Meeting Closed: 9.10 pm