MONTREAL PARK RESIDENTS ASSOCIATION (“MPRA”)


Minutes of the Annual General Meeting held on Thursday, 25th April 2019 at Christ Church United Reformed Church, Littlecourt Road, Sevenoaks.


Present:

H. Potter (In the Chair)

S. Carver

K. Payne


T. Burt

A. Dixon

K. Wickham


Richard Clout

M. Miles



(Committee members*)








J. Stambollouian




(Sub-Committee Chairman)


45 other residents


*Apologies for absence received from Mr. French and Mr. Keane


Hugh Potter took the chair, welcomed everyone and explained the format of the meeting. Updates would first be given on the key items on the agenda and the meeting opened up for discussion. The formal resolutions would be put to the vote towards the end of the meeting.

DEVELOPMENT PROPOSALS

The Chairman gave a summary of the development proposals that could affect Montreal Park. There were two sites in question, both of which are in the Green Belt - a long site situated to the west of Brittains Lane (HO120) and another on land alongside Brittains Farm and the northern part of Brittains Lane (HO177).  There was also a third site brought forward by the angling club adjacent to Riverhead School which had not been actively pursued. Sevenoaks District Council had rejected all these sites from the Local Plan.

The owners of the site situated to the west of Brittains Lane had not contested its exclusion from the Local Plan.  However, Croudace, who are promoting the HO177 site, had contested its exclusion earlier in the year in the form of what is called a “Regulation 19 submission”.

MPRA’s sub-committee had been expecting this and, along with Redlands Road Residents Association, had submitted its own “Regulation 19 submission” supporting Sevenoaks District Council in their assessment that the site is best excluded. It was a very comprehensive submission focusing on the many problems that would be caused by developing that site in particular, which would apply in much the same way for the HO120 site should that ever be resurrected.

A copy of that submission had been circulated to residents in early February. Residents who had followed these proposals over the past two years would know that the land is strongly performing green belt; is partially in an area of outstanding natural beauty; presents a strong flood risk to those in the Bradbourne area; has considerable access constraints; and borders ancient woodland and the Brittains Farm Conservation Area. As well as these site constraints, no thought was being given to the impact on local community facilities such as places at primary schools and on the role of local health centres.  

Croudace would, of course, have put forward what they regard as solutions and their answers to all of these constraints.  Some residents might agree with them given housing issues at large.  However, MPRA’s approach all along had been to consult residents to ensure that their interests as a whole are being best served.  The message coming back had been very clear, with strong support in ensuring that Montreal Park’s voice is being fully heard in the process that would ultimately decide whether the land in question is included or excluded. 

That test was expected to come in the next stage of the process, the examination in public, which would probably be in the autumn.   Given the Government’s commitment to building more houses and a nationally announced target of 300,000 per year, MPRA believed that the inspector who examines the submitted plan would be unlikely to accept that Sevenoaks District Council have done all they can to make provision. The inspector would be listening closely to the arguments advanced by developers and land owners about sites which have been omitted - not least as the Local Plan was now only meeting around 70% of the estimated demand and was falling about 4,200 dwellings short of target.

To date a substantial amount of work had been done by the sub-committee under the leadership of John Stambollouian, which meant that MPRA had not needed to spend any of the funds built up for this particular project. Great thanks were owed to Mr. Stambollouian who had given so much of his time and expertise, and also to Andy Lewis. It was still possible that MPRA would need to commission expert advice on for example, highway and pedestrian access to the site or on the flooding implications, so the money might yet be needed. 

On opening up discussion to the meeting, one resident warmly endorsed the need to thank those who had put together the very professional and robust Regulation 19 Submission. All those present expressed thanks to Mr. Stambollouian and the other members of the sub-committee who had contributed so much in challenging the planning proposals. It was very much appreciated that they had saved residents a considerable amount of money.

In response to a specific question, Mr. Stambollouian explained that the next stage in the process would come in the autumn when the Examiner could be expected to want more work done on the SDC plan to meet the housing target. The Examiner’s report might be published by the end of the year or the beginning of the New Year. The Examiner was unlikely to make any firm decision or recommend any particular sites but instruct instead Sevenoaks District Council to rethink their plan in the context of its shortfall.

The Chairman reported that MPRA would not be seeking any additional subscription for the development fighting fund for the year 2019/20, but these separate funds would continue to be held for that purpose until things became clearer. In the event that the funds were needed for a specific consultation or advice, Redlands Road Residents Association could be expected to contribute. If it turned out that the funds were not needed, each individual household’s contribution towards the fund would be offset against their future subscriptions. The annual membership subscription would remain as £10 per household.

TREASURER’S REPORT

Mr. Clout, the Treasurer, presented the audited accounts for year ending 31 March 2019. He thanked Clare Davison, the Independent Examiner, for conducting an audit of the accounts.

The Association made a small surplus of £37 in the year compared to a surplus of £90 in the previous year. The income of £1,975 arose from the subscriptions from 197 members (£1,970) and a small amount of interest. Total expenditure of £1,938 was mainly for the seven trees planted by Kent County Council at a cost of £1,518. There was some discussion around sourcing the trees from a cheaper supplier but it was explained that the quality of the disease free trees and the facilities they come with plus 10 watering visits justify the price. In any case only KCC or their approved contractor is permitted to plant trees on this public ground. The other expenses were largely in line with the previous year.


A further £1,795 was deposited by members in the Special Planning Reserve bringing the total held  to £3,670 Mr. Perry asked how many trees had been planted this year. 7 trees had been planted which was our main expense. It costs about £225 a tree and KCC are responsible for ensuring that the trees have a certain number of waterings per year. The trees are well planted with protective screens and have a pipe to aid in watering. Mr. Perry wondered if residents could plant trees themselves and it was pointed out that there could be real problems as the verges are actually KCC land and that the services are buried quite shallowly.

The money for the trees comes out of the normal £10 subscription fee.

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH


Adele Dixon reported on Neighbourhood Watch issues. Adele and Katie Stewart jointly took on the role of Neighbourhood Watch Coordinator in July 2018. August and September saw a disturbing number of events take place, with 24 separate incidents reported over the two-month period. 89% of those involved break-ins to sheds and subsequent thefts of bikes and tools, sometimes with values into thousands of pounds. In each case, the perpetrators were believed to have gained access either through the Riverhead Parkland, the fishing lakes, or the fields backing onto Brittains’ lane. The sudden surge in shed break-ins was at a time when the weather was particularly good, and when people were highly likely to be away on summer holidays and, in line with this assumption, the activity almost completely subsided as soon as the summer was over. Since October, only two further shed break-ins had been reported, but unfortunately there had been an increase in house break-ins, with six taking place since October, and three of those in the first two weeks of March. Similar patterns of criminal activity had also been reported in Bessels Green and Seal Road, as well as other nearby areas.


There had also been a big increase in reports of suspicious behaviour, with 13 emails received from residents from October to April. Although this might have sounded like a bad thing, Mrs. Dixon was encouraged by the fact that so many residents had taken heed of Neighbourhood Watch pleas for vigilance, and that more and more people now seemed to be keeping an eye out for their own as well as other people’s properties. This sense of community and looking out for one another was a crucial element in keeping the neighbourhood safe and as crime-free as possible. It was great that so many people were also taking the time to report any suspicions to the police. Only by keeping them informed of everything could they build an accurate picture of the level of crime on the estate and the level of policing required.


With summer approaching, it was possible that the shed thieves would return, particularly as the recent work carried out by the angling club had involved clearing a lot of undergrowth, leaving it a little more open-looking than it was. A new gate had been fitted between Riverhead school and the fishing lakes, which would hopefully make their endeavours more difficult and less appealing. As a reminder, any resident could request a free shed alarm from the community safety officer at the council and at the police event in November, a really useful list of thief-deterring plants was provided which residents might want to consider.


There were also some useful tips on how to increase security around the home, (a ‘Do-it-yourself’ home security survey) and ultimately to make it look less appealing to would-be burglars. Mrs. Dixon offered to re-send these. Speaking of the November event, the key message from it was that the more difficult to access a property appeared, the more likely would-be criminals would move on to another home. Whilst that felt like a somewhat cynical way to look at things, it was a fact. Extending that idea, if the whole estate looks secure, well-protected, and difficult to access it would be less appealing to opportunists as well as professional criminals.


On a more positive side-note, since taking over, there had not been a single complaint about rogue traders, which had been something of an issue in previous year. As a final comment, Mrs. Dixon expressed great thanks to Katie Stewart for her invaluable help and support as joint coordinator over the last year. She also welcomed and thanked Amanda Barton for agreeing to join her as co-watch coordinator going forward.


CCTV

The Chairman introduced the next item on the agenda, which concerned a proposed feasibility study on the installation of CCTV on the estate. This proposal was at the initiation of a resident, Susan Smith, who had expressed concerns to the Committee at increased levels of crime in the vicinity. The Chairman explained that the Committee had looked into CCTV coverage of Montreal Park in the past and had concluded that it would not be an effective deterrent. Nevertheless, it was important not to assume that remained the case and it would be interesting to hear what residents thought about it now. He explained that for projects such as this, there would need to be a separate sub-committee to pursue it given the limited time, resource and knowledge on the matter available to the Committee.


Ms. Smith took the floor and explained the rationale behind her proposal and her approach towards testing the level of appetite within the estate. Residents would already have received a straw poll asking for their views and to return it to her by 7 May 2019 when she would collate the answers on a no-names basis. Ideally the CCTV camera/s would be positioned at the entrance to the estate and at least act as a deterrent and demonstrate Montreal Park as being a less easy target. Noting that our link now seems to be with the civilian reps and not the actual police, she believed that the police were likely to take more notice if there was CCTV coverage. She believed that the police could be encouraged to use the coverage to link photos with criminals. Ms. Smith was hopeful that Montreal Park would get positive results noting that many private roads already have CCTV. She recognised that even with, say, 60 households in favour the other residents were unlikely to contribute towards the cost. If only those in favour contributed, then they would be paying a high price per household. She was hoping though, if the project was not accepted by the majority of residents, then at least the ones who wanted CCTV might get a group discount in helping to cover their own houses. The end result could be a reduced rate on CCTV for those individual houses.


In open discussion, Mr. Burt stated that from his experience the quality of CCTV images was very poor and that the police do not have the resources to study hours of film relating to what is regarded, in the wider context of things, relatively minor crime. A post would need to be supplied, installed, and have a power supply for the camera. Wi-Fi would have to be linked from the property of a willing neighbour and there was the question of who would have access and monitoring responsibility. Would that person have to be vetted or authorised in some form. He noted that just to get permission to get a lamp post fitted at the Sevenoaks Tennis Club parking lot had taken over 18 months and 14 letters. Another resident had previously shown CCTV footage to the police, but the incident could not be pursued as the thief must actually recorded in the act. Capturing the image of an unknown vehicle on the estate would not be sufficient proof. Mr. Frazer, whose work was in security, praised the passion with which the proposal was being put forward but confirmed that CCTV at the front of the estate would not be effective as the image quality would not be good and the perpetrator effectively needs to be caught in the act. Moreover, CCTV would not help those residents when thieves came in via the fields and footpaths behind the houses. More simple measures taken by individual households were likely to be more effective with visible signage in key positions such as the entrance to the estate indicating that cameras were operating at properties.


The Chairman endorsed Mr. Frazer’s comment about the passion with which the proposal was being pursued and thanked Ms. Smith for her initiative in bringing about the debate. The next stage would be for Ms. Smith to assess the results of the straw poll and, depending on the appetite to pursue the matter, the establishment of a sub-committee, reporting in the first instance to the Committee.


CHARACTER OF THE ESTATE


Mrs. Carver reported on the Committee’s efforts in maintaining the character of Montreal Park and thanked everyone for their help in watering the trees this past year which, with the verges, were again looking lovely. This was something from which everyone gained benefit. Eventually trees need replacing and she explained that when replanting this was unlikely to be in the exact same spot as it was best to allow the ground to rest for a while especially if there was a risk of disease remaining in the soil. Advice was taken from KCC in managing the programme of tree replacement and it was to be remembered that trees not sourced and planted by them might not be as healthy or disease free. The choice of trees planted was dependent on the site, soil and the slope and none would be planted where there was building work although efforts would be made to fill all gaps at some point. Seven trees had been planted over the year and the Committee was very pleased with both the quality and the planting of them. Mrs. Carver reiterated the need to water all the trees with a gallon or two at a time through the watering pipe if it has one. Even older trees would need plenty of water. Trees on neighbouring verges should be attended to over holiday periods and thought given to those of elderly neighbours who are less able.


Mrs. Carver thanked Nigel Pritchard and Philip Graham who had spruced up the road signs. The Montreal Park sign at the entrance would get new supports this year with the work to be done by Tyrrells fencing.


FORMAL AGM RESOLUTIONS


The Chairman then turned to the formal business of the meeting:


1. He moved that the Minutes of the AGM held on 26th April 2018 be approved.


The AGM minutes were unanimously approved on a show of hands.



2. The Chairman then moved that the Accounts for the year ended 31 March 2019 be approved.



The accounts were unanimously approved by a show of hands.

3. The Chairman explained that all the current officers and Committee members with the exception of Katie Stewart, one of the Neighbourhood Watch Coordinators, were prepared to stand for another year. Maggie Miles had volunteered to join the committee and Amanda Barton had volunteered to be one of the Neighborhood Watch Coordinators. The Independent Examiner, Claire Davison had also volunteered to examine the Treasurer’s report for the year ending 31 March 2020.

The Chairman moved that the re-election of the officers and Committee members and the Independent Examiner, Claire Davison be approved.

The resolution was unanimously approved by a show of hands.


There being no further business the Chairman thanked residents for their support and declared the meeting closed.









­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­_______________________________________________________

5