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Village Features

From The Village archives: May 2002 - Lickey End: The parish with an existential crisis

Posted on December 29 2010 at 3:34:24

As Lickey End parish comes to an end on 1.1.2011, we reproduce an article from The Village magazine in 2002 on the crazy political stalemate . . .

If you made it up, no one would believe you. A brand new parish where all ten councillors are elected with the sole intention of abolishing themselves. Yet a year later, they are still there, holding meetings – and may yet have to stand for election again to a council they don’t want to exist.

This story, on the surface farcical, revolves around the grassroots of government, with a cast of characters who all want the best for the people of Lickey End, but who have created a stand-off with no clear outcome.

Here’s the synopsis for any would-be scriptwriter looking for an idea.

At the turn of the century Lickey End is the only part of Bromsgrove district, except the town centre, not to be represented by a parish council.

No one minds this particularly, although the residents are increasingly aware they have no obvious way to air grievances or get anything done to help them.

So a group of them organise a meeting at the local school hall where about 140 people gather to see what can be done.

Among those present is the leader of Bromsgrove District Council, Nick Psirides, who, according to some recollections, suggests one solution might be for the area to have its own parish council.

So the locals raise a petition with 270 names on it calling for a parish council. The district council is asked to look into it and carries out a survey of the proposed area – quite a large one, in fact, including the village of Burcot in the south and running across the M42 and onwards up Old Birmingham Road as far as Braces Lane in the north.

Unfortunately, the district’s survey finds 40 per cent of respondents are against the idea – particularly in Burcot, where villagers have established their own village hall committee and don’t want to be involved.

So the district council forwards the petition to the Secretary of State for the Environment for a decision, but without giving the idea its backing.

“New parish set to fall at first hurdle,” says the headline in The Village of August 2000.

But people power overcomes and by December 2000, The Village is reporting: “Lickey End parish hope.” The Government has asked Broms­grove to justify its opposition, so the district decides to back the creation of a Lickey End Parish Council, excluding Burcot.

By February 2001, The Village is able to report, confidently: “Lickey End to find its voice.”

The council is to be formed on April 1 and run by district councillors until elections for the ten seats on the council are held on May 3.

“It is encouraging to see the district council’s original request, to exclude the village of Burcot from the new parish, has been supported,” says Coun Psirides.

All’s well that ends well, then . . . only this was just the beginning.

As the residents set about finding candidates to stand for the new parish council, concern was emerging over the cost of this new tier of government.

One resident, retired metallurgist Charles Bateman, felt strongly enough to put pen to paper, making his disquiet over the idea known.

“I suppose, in a way, I started it,” he says now, “because I wrote a letter to a local paper and had a load of replies and people ringing up saying, ‘what can we do?’

“It snowballed and I could probably have had 30 names to stand as anti-parish council candidates.”

But he only needed ten, including his own, and come May 3, campaigning on an anti-parish council platform, they took all of the seats.

Disappointed and baffled, the other side could only believe that many voters had misunderstood how much it was going to cost them.

“Rumours were going around that it was going to cost £7 a week,” says one of the original pro-parish council group, Patrick Callaway. “In fact, it would have been £7 a year for a council tax Band D home.”

Mr Callaway, who is clerk to Stoke Prior Parish Council, was at that first meeting at Lickey First School, a meeting chaired by retired teaching union official Frank Howard. He says of the vote: “It really is a nonsense because if you ask people, ‘Do you want to spend more money on local authority services?’ the answer will be, ‘No’.”

But the fact remained that by the morning of May 4 2001, they had lost and the new parish council would vote to dissolve itself. And that would be that.

Yet here we are a year later and Lickey End Parish Council is still in existence – going strong, even. As its chairman, Coun Bateman points out, it is one of the few parish councils in Bromsgrove to have a website where it publishes minutes of the four meetings it is obliged to hold annually.

Only the parish council isn’t, in effect, doing anything. It has not raised any money this year from residents through the precept – the part of your council tax that goes towards your parish council – and it does not intend to spend any money on behalf of the people of Lickey End.

Its members believe this is the best way to serve the interests of the people and are now biding the time until they can ensure the area is once again “unparished”.

Coun Bateman says this has been help up by a review of electoral boundaries currently taking place, but he hopes the council will be no more by the time of the next round of local elections in 12 months.

“We are hoping to save the people of Lickey End paying any more money by it being abolished before the local elections next May,” he says.

“If we do have to fight it again, it is an expense for the people again.

“I’m not against parish councils per se; in a rural area they are a good idea. But Lickey End is so near Bromsgrove it is ridiculous. We think parish councils are surplus in urban areas.

“Lickey End is a spread out area and a lot of people don’t consider that we live in Lickey End. We live north of the M42, which is really Marlbrook.”

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the motorway, they are also looking forward to the outcome of the electoral boundary review. They hope it will mean six of Lickey End Parish Council’s members will have to be elected from the south of the parish, below the M42, where they believe support for a parish council is much stronger.

Mr Callaway says parish councils give “power to the people, really, giving local people control over local affairs.

“The money that is raised in the precept is spent entirely in the parish and not on building a bandstand somewhere else or on paying district councillors’ expenses. Here in Lickey End we don’t see much of the money that goes to the district council.”
Mr Callaway also thinks it is unlikely that the parish council will be abolished. “This Government is in favour of parish councils, particularly urban ones, and I can’t see it abolishing one having just set it up.” He adds: “I was talking to the official concerned in London and he said no parish council has ever been abolished.”

If there are going to be elections to Lickey End Parish Council next May, Mr Callaway says the current members will face a dilemma. “What do they stand for? They can’t stand saying they are going to abolish it again when it hasn’t happened the first time.”

He says patience is the key now – and finding the right candidates to stand as pro-parish candidates in the elections.

Mr Howard, meanwhile, is still angry about what is happening in Lickey End and sees missed opportunities slipping by.

“They are doing nothing and anyone who writes to them has their letter passed on to the district council. I can’t see how they are representing people who didn’t vote for them.

“I feel quite angry about it. I don’t feel angry about them opposing a parish council, but they should not be parish councillors if they are opposed to parish councils.

“They should have resigned; they had proved their point. They are preventing people who would otherwise do things for Lickey End from getting on with them. They are stifling all activity in Lickey End.

“And it is a specious argument to say the district council does it all, because the district council has to take the broader view and look at the whole of the district. There are parts in each parish that need looking at separately.

“In Barnt Green for instance, they have a serious parking problem, but they have been able to pay for extra services from a traffic warden.

“I’m just hoping that the splitting into two wards will make a difference.”

So there it is, ten councillors who don’t want to be councillors, but are ready to stand and fight again, and a large group of people who would like to see their area have the same representation as everywhere else in the district.
It may be farcical, it may seem to be nonsensical, but you have to admire the determination of all those taking part in what is, at least, democracy.

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