Villages do not stand still, they evolve over the years, mostly quite slowly, but sometimes they can be overtaken by events with alarming speed and we find that things we took for granted are suddenly under threat. The PC has set up a Forward Strategy Group to act as a lookout for rocks ahead, and to make recommendations for changes of course where necessary. This is the page on which the PC and the FSG will post their concerns for the state of the village and suggestions for future developments. The most recent piece will appear on this page, previous pieces will be archived here.
A Message from the PC
Since rumours have been swirling around recently about various radical moves by the PC, including plans to sell off the Playing Field, I would like to set the record straight.
It is the belief of a majority on the Parish Council (and many outside) that the village is at a critical fork in the road. The Rose & Crown, the Royal oak and the Village Stores have been on the market for several years without finding buyers. This is not a state of affairs that can continue indefinitely, and we face the real prospect of losing all three. We also have a shortage of smaller houses, which makes it difficult for young people to set up home in the village or for older residents to downsize without leaving. Furthermore, the playing field, while still well supported, does not attract the numbers that it once did: there is no longer a village football team, the Cricket Club struggles to recruit members, and plans to build a new pavilion are on hold.
On the other side of the balance sheet, a huge amount of dedication over the years has been put into the pubs and shop, which are excellent businesses and deserve more custom. The Stoke Stampede goes from strength to strength, and the success of the Willow Set, the School, the Village Hall and the Allotments among many other things demonstrates that there is no shortage of energy and community spirit available.
It is our belief that tough decisions need to be taken in order to solve particular problems with village services and housing, that these issues are all interconnected, and that doing nothing would lead to a much diminished village in the future. To those who are fearful of change I would suggest that the village is changing in any case: it is better to acknowledge and react to the change than merely to let it happen.
In response to these challenges, the PC has set up a Forward Strategy Group including PC members and others, as a sort of think-tank to discuss and evaluate the options. It is important to understand that this group has no executive powers: its sole purpose is to gather information and inform the PC.
One of the options being investigated in connection with the threat to pubs and shop, is the viability of a plan to buy one of the businesses and run it as a community enterprise. This would be a massive undertaking which would require a lot of support from both volunteers and customers, but it is the sort of thing that has succeeded elsewhere, and which we believe the village is capable of pulling off. I should stress that this is very much a contingency plan: our preferred option would still be for as many of the businesses as possible to remain commercially successful, and we will assist where we can in ensuring this.
A second strand in our approach is to encourage a limited amount of development, particularly of smaller houses. We believe that this would enable those with connections to the village at both ends of the age range to stay here, as well as attracting some of the new blood which any village needs to keep it from fossilising. Not only would a slight increase (and a better balance) in the population provide more children for the school and more customers for the businesses, the Community Interest Levy payments associated with development would help to fund projects such as the pavilion. There are major planning hurdles to be jumped before any housing development could take place, but in the current climate we believe that these will prove surmountable
Where any new houses are to go is obviously a massive and potentially contentious question. The only readily available land is privately owned, so a commercial development seems the most feasible option at present, though the PC would only support an application which met our criteria. Furthermore, no development would be likely to succeed unless it received wider community approval.
The Playing Field is held in trust by the PC, and one of many ideas on the table would would be to pool it with other land so that any part of it used to build houses could be replaced by an equivalent area of land elsewhere. In other words, if it should be felt that there were advantages in doing so, the Playing Field could move. There are three things to underline about this: 1) it is only one suggestion among many, nowhere near being a decision, 2) it is not a decision that the PC could take without the agreement of the Playing Field Trustees, 3) it is not a decision that the PC or the PFT could take without calling a public meeting and having it approved by majority vote.
Everyone should clearly understand that while the PC is quite rightly gathering all the information it can and trying to assess all the options, however radical, no decisions have been made, and nor can they be without wider consultation. If you hear that the PC has done this or is going to do that, treat the information with extreme scepticism and refer to the minutes of the latest meeting, which will be available on the website.
In addition, we always welcome comments and suggestions, whether written or in person. This village belongs to all of us, and its future should be very much a mutual concern.
Nick Sloan, Chair