Chairman’s Report

This has been a year for establishing good foundations for the coming years. Cleaswell Park renovations began in March with the thinning of woodland and will continue this year to completion in the summer. Pathways established in the Riverside Park will be extended to other woodland, a cycleway in our area will be added to a priority list by Northumberland County Council and our Neighbourhood Plan is beginning to take shape with local knowledge a vital part of the process.
This council has had an ambition over many years to provide pathways through riverside woodlands and bring the Riverside Park up to country park standard, so that residents can better enjoy the variety of walking through the existing riverside track and through the higher woodland. This year the Council installed wooden pathways through the wettest areas to create a woodland walk that can be enjoyed throughout the year. Although the continuous downpours at the beginning of this year did prove to be a challenge for only the most determined walkers and four legged friends. This was the first woodland pathway that the Council has installed and the learning from this will be applied to the woodland lying behind Morpeth Road Estate upstream from Sheepwash Bridge. Unfortunately, the rain has also caused land slippage along the short track towards the old quarry just at the bottom of the field at Ringway, and Northumberland County Council have closed that access.
Family Activities
The Parish Council continues to promote and provide activities for younger and older people. We work in partnership with several local organisations including schools, youth groups, sports clubs, community groups, and Stakeford and Bomarsund Welfare to deliver a full programme of activities.
Last year we had, pop-up football in the holidays, sports camps, arts and craft sessions, and the very well attended Easter Egg Hunt – despite that appalling rain. The Parish Council and Stakeford and Bomarsund Welfare received a grant from the Ballinger Trust and HAF funding which provided family excursions to Newcastle United and a rugby game at the Eagles.
The Parish Council’s youth club at the Holy family Church runs every Thursday at 5pm for those 9 – 11-year-olds in years 5 and 6 with a mix of activities, games and crafts. Led by local youth worker Maria Oliver, it continues to grow in numbers and activities. This year they were joined by artist Jamie Evans and we arranged trips to ice skating at the Centre for life and to Airbox Bounce at Cramlington.
A wide range of activities for older people are supported by the Parish Council through grant funding and we are open to supporting new activities. This year the Council supported a line dancers afternoon beginners course, which over the few weeks it ran attracted a small enthusiastic group of all ages. The Parish Council would encourage more approaches for funding by groups new or established which provide activities for people in our community.
West Sleekburn Village Hall
The Parish Council installed the existing village hall at West Sleekburn in 2019, and since it has been run by a group of Trustees including 3 of our Parish Councillors, Cllr Lynne Watson, Cllr Hilary Allsopp and Cllr Kath Burn. The building is available for private hire, and is situated in a large green and paved area ideally suited for outside games or a barbecue. Recently its Social Saturdays have been proving popular, providing a chance for casual visitors to pop along for a coffee and biscuit where conversation and board games are at hand to while away a couple of hours. Social Saturdays run every Saturday morning from 10.30am-12.30pm everyone welcome.
Play Areas and Cleaswell Park
The Parish Council has refurbished all the 6 play areas that we have responsibility for, and this year Northumberland County Council work has begun work on Cleaswell Park. After many years of campaigning by local Parish and County Councillors, Cleaswell Park was awarded £200,000 as part of the fund to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II. Although this is a considerable sum of money, the total cost may be over £400K. County Councillors Julie Foster and Mary Murphy are also providing funding, and The Parish Council is providing gap-funding and applying for grants and donations from other sources . The rejuvenation of the park has been guided by local people. Last year the Parish Council asked local people to define what they wanted from the development of Cleaswell Park and received over 100 responses to our consultation.
Northumberland County Council is project managing the work at Cleaswell Park which began in March with the thinning of the woodland area. The woodland had been left unmanaged for decades and was in need of considerable work. Thinning will enable the light to get to the undergrowth and encourage new growth. There was also an important safety aspect to this thinning. Everyone from the play area can now see into the trees and it allows those entering the steps into the woodland clear sight along the path. The ground work on the steps and surfacing is now in progress and the play equipment is about to go out to tender.
Taking long term responsibility for Cleaswell Park from NCC is a major undertaking for the Parish Council and we are looking for the support of residents to make Cleaswell Park a hub for activities over and above those attractions in the park. A ‘Friends of Cleaswell Park’ has been established to spearhead this. What will take place will be decided by the ‘Friends’, but an early suggestion is that a ‘walking group’ could start at the park at an advertised time to take a stroll around the Riverside sharing in the company of others. Please join the ‘Friends’ to share your ideas or interests and become part of the development of this community initiative.
Cycleways and Road Safety
Another long campaign by our Parish and County Councillors continues for cycleways to link our Parish with national cycle routes. NCC’s policy is to concentrate enhancing links within towns. Whilst this benefits towns like Morpeth Ashington Blyth and Cramlington it means that areas like ours without town centres, are ignored. County Hall has accepted the
strength of our argument, and this year initiated a feasibility study that showed 3 ways to link the Parish to the Northumberland line stations at Ashington and Bedlington Station. It is a major development in the campaign as now we are to be included in the priority list of cycle corridors. A funding source is still to be secured by Northumberland County Council.
Stakeford County Councillor Julie Foster and Choppington County Councillor Mary Murphy have allocated money from their local schemes fund to provide interactive signage along Ashington Drive to improve road safety. Last year the Parish Council undertook a consultation and feedback showed residents were concerned with the speed of traffic along the road. This work is programmed to be completed later in the year.
Neighbourhood Plan
Alongside these consultations we continue to gather evidence for our Neighbourhood plan. There are two emerging themes:
Land that is valued and that people wish to protect from unnecessary or inappropriate development.
Encouragement of good design to enhance the area.
From our early days, and with the support of residents, the Parish Council has invested in improving the visual look of the area. Open areas of grass are kept tidy, and weeds controlled. We maintain the street furniture of the area such as litter bins, bus shelters and flower towers to a high standard, all of these have been replaced or refurbished over recent years. Our street furniture is painted in green livery and badged as provided by the Parish Council and maintained through our partnership with NCC. The neighbourhood plan will be an important tool in our drive to improve where we live.
Through the Neighbourhood Plan, land can be designated as ‘Local Green Space’ or ‘Protected Open Space. The local green space (LGS) designation is a way to protect green areas or open spaces against development where they are of particular importance to local communities.
Protected open space (POS) designation is a way to protect other areas of open space which are valued for their local amenity and for informal or formal recreational purposes, but which do not meet the full LGS criteria. Once designated as POS they should be safeguarded and only lost where detailed criteria are met. The Neighbourhood Plan Steering Group will be out and about to gather local knowledge about these green areas to strengthen the application.
This has been a positive year, with new projects started and we can look forward confidently to new developments in the next Council year.
Paul S Vaughan
Choppington Parish Council
20 May 2024