Trowbridge-Mayor-Planting-Tree-Ukraine

26 August 2023

Once again, this last week has been a week of two halves. The first half was totally taken up with Town Council business—nothing at all for the Mayor to do—and plenty for a Councillor to get stuck into.

Firstly, there was a meeting of the Town Council’s Anti-Social Behaviour and Street Crime Working Group. I’m sure that we all sometimes feel as though anti-social behaviour and low-level street crime are an everyday part of modern life, but do we really have to just accept that? I certainly don’t think so, and neither does anyone I talk to on my travels around our town.

So should we just shrug our shoulders when our own Neighbourhood Services team goes out to repaint a graffiti-ridden underpass, only for it to be vandalised again within hours?

Should we just accept the fact that public money is spent on the same Neighbourhood Services team going around the town centre emptying bins and cleaning the streets in the morning, only for litter (usually food cartons or wrappers) to be casually thrown on the pavement within sight of a litterbin by lunchtime?

I don’t believe we should just accept this sort of behaviour. It IS anti-social, and it may well also be criminal. The vast majority of Trowbridge residents want to live in a town they can be proud of; it’s only a very small minority of people who spoil it for the rest of us. But we all have to accept that this small minority will include some of our children, our brothers and sisters, and even some of our parents.

We are ALL responsible for the example we set and, to some extent, the actions of those close to us, so please do try to spread the simple message that we should all KEEP TROWBRIDGE TIDY.

And if you do see someone engaged in any form of anti-social behaviour or low-level street crime, PLEASE report it to the police by telephone by dialling 101 or alternatively online (anonymously) at crimestoppers-uk.org/

The simple truth is that by ignoring this sort of behaviour, you are allowing it to continue. By reporting it, you help the police build an accurate picture of what’s going on, and that helps them target their (limited) resources.

… and if you see a litter bin that’s full, a vandalised item of street furniture, or a graffitied wall, please report that to us at trowbridge.gov.uk/report-an-issue/ and we’ll try to respond as quickly as we can.

Moving on, later that same day we had the inaugural meeting of the Town Council’s new Town Park Working Group. This group has been created to look at everything related to the park, including the provision of toilets, the future of the bandstand, and the issues surrounding the town pond, and report back to the Neighbourhood Services Committee.

The initial business of any new Working Group is to elect someone to chair the group and then define the group’s terms of reference. I was elected Chair of the group, and the Terms of Reference were drafted and will be presented to the next Neighbourhood Services Committee meeting (10th October) for approval. However, that date is nearly six weeks off, and we all agreed that finding a solution to the lack of public toilets in the park is a pressing priority. We do have one possible option that may be both relatively cheap and relatively quick to implement once approved, so we have asked officers to look into the feasibility and costs of this option as a matter of urgency.

That Working Group meeting was immediately followed by a meeting of the Council’s Town Development Committee. This is a full committee of the Town Council (as opposed to a Working Group like the above two meetings), which means that it does have decision-making powers.

However, and yes, there’s always a “however” somewhere in the mix, although the Town Development Committee is charged with reviewing all planning applications submitted within Trowbridge, it does so only as a consultee, and the final decision on any application is made by the Local Planning Authority. and that’s Wiltshire Council.

This doesn’t in any way mean that we don’t take every planning application that comes before us seriously. We do. We look at the plans, we examine the impact on the neighbourhood of the application, we consider any loss of amenity that the proposal may inflict on nearly all properties, the suitability of the proposal and its adherence to current planning law, Wiltshire’s core policies, environmental and historical/heritage preservation needs, etc.

In short, we will look at the applications in exactly the same way as Wiltshire Council will, and although we don‘t make the final decision, our recommendations are formally fed into the planning process and will be considered by the Planning Officer responsible.

Now, that doesn’t mean that our consultation will always lead to a decision that reflects our recommendation. There will be times when, for whatever reason, Wiltshire will disagree with our recommendation, and the decision will not be what we wanted.

It is worth mentioning here that the Town Development Committee is not only about planning applications; we also have input into licencing applications, enforcement matters, planning appeals, and minor road and pavement improvements (new pedestrian crossings and the like).

The Town Development Committee is the busiest of the Town Council’s committees in terms of frequency of meetings, but only because it has to keep pace with planning applications submitted to Wiltshire Council, which all have a limited consultation period.

But I wouldn’t say that the workload (or responsibility) of any one committee is greater or less than any other; it’s just that they’re all charged with overseeing different functions of the Town Council, and their workloads and responsibilities are therefore also very different.

Then came Thursday.

Thursday 24th August was Ukrainian Independence Day. At the very end of July I was approached by a member of our local Ukrainian community, supported by a group from St. Thomas’ Church, to ask whether we (Trowbridge Town Council) could assist in putting on an event in the town park that would allow them to commemorate the day.

Now, normally, events in the park take months to plan and pull together; there are risk assessments that have to be filled out, reviewed, and signed off; access to the park has to be arranged; public liability insurance has to be put in place; health and safety inspections have to be carried out; food hygiene certificates need checking; and first aid has to be confirmed as available (and qualified).

All of this is also very necessary. At its most basic level, we have to do all this “by the book” because we have a legal responsibility to make sure that we (and any outside organisations present) have done everything that we could have done to minimise any risk and prevent injury to anyone attending (or even just walking by; it is a public park after all, and we can’t close it to the public just because there’s a “private” event going on).

I was absolutely determined, though, that we should help in any way we could. Three weeks didn’t give us enough time to put on a full-blown Town Council event (not when we’re in the final stages of putting together Uniform Service Day as well), but we could certainly do what we could to support and help an outside organisation put on the event in our park.

So that’s what we did. St. Thomas’ Church took the lead in putting on the event; it was covered by their insurance, and they completed all the required risk assessments and associated paperwork. In reality, St. Thomas’ booked the Town Park to put on the event; all we did was support them with advice and a practical health and safety inspection on the day.

Oh, and I was asked to make a speech.

The day itself was marvellous. From the bandstand, we had speeches, and we were treated to Ukrainian music and song from the incomparable Nicole Medin and a very talented young pianist, plus a saxophonist and a guitarist. We had stalls down in the park exhibiting Ukrainian literature, Ukrainian traditional costumes, and Ukrainian crafts. The Park Club joined in and provided hot and cold drinks and served some really delicious Ukrainian cabbage dumplings (I think they’re called “varenyky”).

I’ve got to just add that after I had given my speech, the driving force behind the day, a truly courageous and yet wonderfully “down to earth” Ukrainian woman by the name of Anastasiia, presented me with a beautiful traditional embroidered Ukrainian shirt, a Vyshyvanka. This was totally unexpected and incredibly touching. I had only an hour before been admiring a similar shirt that Cllr. David Vigar was wearing; in fact, I’d asked him where I could get one! Now I had one. So thank you, Anastasiia, and everyone else; it’s a gift that I’ll treasure for years and continue to wear with pride.

And then there were the trees! In what can only be described as a wonderful gesture of friendship, the Ukrainian community in Trowbridge asked whether they could plant some flowering trees in our town park. These trees were intended as a “thank you” to the people of Trowbridge for offering our Ukrainians sanctuary in their hour of need. I was truly touched by this. These are, after all, refugees from a horrifically cruel war still waging in their homeland. Their friends and family are still there, their menfolk (and in some cases their womenfolk as well) are fighting for their freedom, and yet they took the time to think of us.

The Ukrainians now living in Trowbridge came here as strangers; they are now our friends. One day they will return to a peaceful Ukraine, but I want to think that these trees will be here for many, many years as a physical reminder of that friendship.

All I can say is, Thank you!

That’s it for now, so until next time, keep safe, and please be kind to each other.

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