This year’s report is a mixed bag of achievement, consultation and significant progress in some areas tinged with a little disappointment.
The Council has completed the bus shelter programme. Since the creation of the Parish Council all our 33 bus shelters have been renewed or refurbished. The last one, at the housing development at Willow Farm has only just been completed as part of that development. Our bus shelters now incorporate perforated panels, which are more durable, reducing repair costs without any significant change in style.
We now have over 150 litter and dog bins on our streets, and have successfully attracted a grant this year, for the purchase of 19 new ground mounted litter bins.
We received a commission from Choppington Disability Group to install ‘talking point’ seating along the Riverside Park. These are small benches grouped on a hardstanding large enough to accommodate wheelchair users, that enable groups of friends to chat together. We thought this would appeal particularly to groups of young people. We installed these in 3 locations along the riverside park. To our disappointment, they were very quickly vandalised. Starting with the seats at West Sleekburn – which we initially thought had been damaged by a vehicle, however the remaining ones over two weekends all suffered deliberate damage. The benches being dismantled and discarded in the river, and litter bins set alight. As a consequence we have purchased all metal bins for the Riverside which will be installed over the summer and are reassessing how best to implement the ‘talking point’ seats.
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 the Welfare to deliver a full programme of activities.
For the young the last year has seen, pop-up football in the holidays, sports camps, arts and craft sessions, and family trips to Light Water Valley and to the City of Light event in Sunderland. We have future visits planned, again working with our valued partners.
The youth club at Holy family continues to grow in numbers and we are investigating how we can expand the youth club offer locally and for older children. The expansion of the Christmas Lights was a big hit with local children as was the hugely successful family Christmas magic show.
A wide range of activities for older people are delivered through the Welfare, and we are always open to new ideas to develop. If there is an activity you would like us to consider, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Work continues in the Riverside Park. We are working with Northumberland County Council (NCC) to improve the Choppington side of the River Wansbeck. We are investing in woodland walkways and conservation management to bring the riverside up to country park standards. Learning from this will be applied to the woodland lying behind Morpeth Road Estate upstream from Sheepwash Bridge.
Play Areas and Parks
The completion of the play area at Liddells field concluded our play area programme. We have refurbished all the 6 play areas that we have responsibility for. This year, after many years of campaigning by local Parish and County Councillors, Cleaswell Park was awarded £200,000 by NCC as part of the fund to commemorate Queen Elizabeth II. Although this is a considerable sum of money, the total cost could be over £400k. The Parish Council is putting money towards it, but we are also applying for grants and donations from other sources. We are asking local people to steer the development of Cleaswell Park, and we already have received over 100 responses to our consultation which is running to the end of May. We plan to involve residents through a new group as ‘Friends of Cleaswell Park’. The consultation can be completed either on line by using the following hyperlink https://www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/6FSZXMC or hard copies are available from the Parish Offices, where also you will be able to express your interest in becoming more involved. 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 local volunteers to help us maintain the park as a quality facility for the whole community.
Cycleways and Road Safety
Another long campaign our Parish and County Councillors are continuing is for cycleways to link our Parish with national routes. NCC’s policy is to concentrate enhancing links within towns. Whilst this will benefit towns like Morpeth Ashington Blyth and Cramlington it means that areas like ours without town centres, are being ignored. Whilst County Hall accepts the strength of our argument, to date they have offered us nothing tangible. Our argument is for levelling up funds to be made available to communities like ours.
Layering our approach, County Councillor Julie Foster and Parish Councillor Lynne Watson were pleased to support resident Mandy Trotter with her petition for a pathway along Barrington Road, to link Red Row Drive to the facilities on the Industrial Estate and to the proposed rail link in Bedlington Station. NCC members of the Local Area Council considered the petition and resolved that it would be put forward for consideration with other schemes in the next round of the LTP.
Stakeford County Councillor Julie Foster and Choppington County Councillor Mary Murphy are allocating money from their local schemes fund to provide interactive signage along Ashington Drive to improve road safety. Earlier this year the Parish Council undertook this consultation. Feedback showed residents were concerned with the speed of traffic along the road and were pleased that it was to be addressed.
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. This includes design that will improve the visible amenity of existing estates, local shopping parades and gateways to 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. There are other challenges. For example, in the square at Guide Post we are fortunate to have a good selection of shops however, trading conditions are difficult. A Neighbourhood plan could contain planning powers to improve the appearance of our local precincts to draw in new businesses and trade.
In conclusion, this year we have completed our play area and bus shelter programme. Our argument for cycleways to connect the area to the national network has been accepted but we await NCC to match kind words with the funding needed to make real progress. This year we have consulted with more residents than ever, we are making progress on interactive signs to make our roads safer, and seeking resident support for the Neighbourhood Plan and Cleaswell Park. Looking forward this coming year will focus on Cleaswell Park with the Parish Council working with Northumberland County Council to bring about a transformation to make Cleaswell Park a place for everyone.
Paul S Vaughan
Choppington Parish Council
22 May 2023