Because of Covid-19 this has of course been a particularly difficult year for everyone in the parish. The first lockdown began in March 2020; and the two further lockdowns, along with continuing restrictions and concerns about the virus, meant that the Parish Council held all its scheduled 2020-21 meetings remotely via online Zoom. Meetings were advertised in the normal way and members of the public also invited to participate online. Much of the work to maintain highways, rights of way, roadside ditches etc which would normally have been done by our parish lengthsman, Balfour Beatty and others had to be halted or postponed, and catching up on maintenance and improvements will take time. Despite all the difficulties we have been able to carry on business much as usual, thanks to the patience and co-operation of all involved.
One heartening aspect of the pandemic restrictions has been the sight of so many people, many from the city, out and about walking, jogging, or cycling in Breinton, discovering our network of footpaths, access to the river, and beautiful unspoilt countryside on the very doorstep of Hereford. Breinton has truly proved itself to be the city’s ‘green lung’ a claim which the Parish Council has always made in support of our campaigns and neighbourhood planning policies to preserve and enhance this exceptional asset for the benefit and well-being of residents and visitors.
Planning. The Council has continued to respond to planning applications in Breinton and its neighbouring parishes, using the Breinton Neighbourhood Development Plan and the county’s Core Strategy as our policy guides. Last autumn we also made a detailed response objecting – and proposing alternatives – to much of the government’s controversial White Paper “Planning for the Future”. More power would be centralised in London, and that of local planning authorities would be stripped back. For the time being, due to parliamentary opposition from all quarters, the proposed legislation has not yet been passed by the House of Commons.
We have continued to object to planning applications where these do not conform to relevant parish (Neighbourhood Development Plan) and county (Local Plan Core Strategy) policies. Recently detailed objections included proposed developments at Warham Court Farm and at land off Breinton Lee, Kings Acre Road.
New ‘Interpretation Boards’ at Breinton Common and Breinton Springs. These boards with interesting information and illustrations about local history and wildlife were both installed during the year. Many thanks to all involved, particularly Keith Ray and Nicky Geeson for their special expertise in Breinton’s heritage and wildlife.
New village entry signs and parish noticeboards. We have commissioned replacements for the four village entry signs and most of the parish noticeboards. This remains a work-in-progress, but new signs and noticeboards should soon be ready to be installed.
Flooding and land drainage. Though 2020-21 was not quite such a wet winter as the previous one, the Council made every effort to respond to drainage and flooding problems and to remind landowners of their responsibilities to maintain ditches so that rainwater can flow where it should and not lead to blocked drains and flooding on roads or residential property. Special thanks to our BBLP locality steward Mike Gill and our parish lengthsman Richard Mills who have done much to help ensure most of these problems were dealt with as quickly as conditions allowed. We hope that recent meetings with representatives from two local farms will lead to improvements at several key locations before next winter.
Traffic and Speeding surveys. It was disappointing that data from surveys on Breinton Lane and locations at Breinton Common did not provide evidence to support the Council’s long-held ambition to create a 40mph limit on all lanes in the parish (instead of the current 60mph). Cllr John Harrington, the cabinet member for infrastructure at Herefordshire Council, supports our case to reduce the speed limit, so the Parish Council remains hopeful that this can still be achieved. Concerns have also been raised about speeding on King’s Acre Road. Our Police representative CPSO Boswell organised monitoring of vehicle speeds there last autumn and, along with the local ward coucillors, the Parish Council will press for the installation of SIDs (Speed Indicator Devices) at suitable locations.
Fibre broadband works. Between late November and April Gigaclear, and their contractors Complete Utilities and Avonline, have been installing fibre-optic cable to provide super-fast broadband across much of the parish (Breinton Common, Upper & Lower Breinton, and Green Lane/Cranstone). This was inevitably disruptive and caused temporary damage to many roadside verges but, like the old saying about omelettes and eggs, the outcome will be well worth it. Residents who are already fully connected report massive improvements in their broadband speed and capacity. Gigaclear gave assurances in January that, once the groundworks were finished, they would make good the verges, clearing away any left-behind debris and litter, and adding new topsoil and grass seed to help the verges recover. However, at the time of writing this has not yet been completed…
For Breinton the headline news of the year was the cancellation of the proposed Hereford Western Relief Road and Southern Link Road, projectswhose benefits were always exaggerated, and which would have inflicted so much damage to the local environment. With the support of the great majority of residents the Parish Council had always opposed both these hugely costly road-building schemes, so we welcomed the cancellation of the bypass which was confirmed at the Herefordshire Council’s Extraordinary Full Council meeting in early February. We are immensely grateful to the many people in Breinton and beyond who worked for so many years to persuade Herefordshire Council that there are cheaper, more effective, and sustainable alternatives to help solve the city’s traffic congestion. The Parish Council will continue to support such alternatives to road building which recognise the reality of the climate emergency and the special value of our unspoiled countryside on the city’s doorstep.
Farewell and Thanks. After giving the matter much thought, and as I will turn 70 before the next local elections in 2023, I let colleagues know early this year that, after nearly 10 years as a parish councillor, I would be stepping down at the Annual Meeting in May, to allow me more time for other projects and interests.
I want to end this report by thanking all my councillor colleagues for their support during my two years as chairman, in particular Tony Geeson, my vice-chair this year, for all his time and dedicated work on behalf of the parish. My thanks also to our ward representative Cllr Bob Matthews, our BBLP locality steward Mike Gill, John Wade (Footpaths Officer), Nicky Geeson (Tree Warden) and Tom Davies (Auditor) for their continuing work during the year. Finally, my thanks on behalf of all colleagues to our clerk Emily Godsall, without whom the Parish Council could quite simply not function at all and who keeps us all in order with patience and good humour.
Anthony Powers (chair, Breinton Parish Council)