Report On Town Partnership Meeting for Houghton Regis

February 1st - A meeting of Houghton Regis Town Partnership took place at Peel Street at 7.30pm. Members in attendance, Central Bedfordshire Councillors: Mrs S. Goodchild (chair), T. Swain, A. Ryan; Houghton Regis Town Councillors: J. Carroll, D. Dixon-Wilkinson, Ms L. Ellaway, R. Shimmin. Also present:  HRTC: Cllr D. Abbott, Cllr Mrs T McMahon, Cllr K. Wattingham; CBC: Cllr B. Spurr (CBC Executive member); Inspector Clare Thomas (Beds Police), CBC officers: Mrs S Hughes, Mr A Lewis, 4 Parkside residents, 2 Houghton Hall residents, 1 Tithe Farm resident, 2 visitors to explain Groundwork in the town, a PCSO.

CEMETERY - Mr Alan Winter, in public questions, pointed out that in December 2013 it had been "a dilemma" that the town's cemetery had 5 years life left, and that it was going to take 5 years to develop a new cemetery. He wanted to know what the latest projected end of life of the present cemetery was, and what steps the Town Council, and the Central Bedfordshire Council were taking to develop a new site? The Town Clerk replied that, "The Town Council is looking at design options to extend the life of the cemetery, and is looking for more options as opportunities arise and as the town develops." [ Meetings at HRTC on cemetery provision ]

ANTI-SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR - Mr Ian Laken was concerned about anti-social behaviour in Parkside, and said that there were now more quad bikes around, stone throwing, and people being beaten up. He told the meeting that people do not feel supported by the police, that they were doing nothing, despite having a duty. He wanted the public to be more involved throughout council meetings, not just in public question time, and suggested that an item be placed on the agenda this evening to discuss that, or if not possible, at an extraordinary meeting. He was informed by the Town Clerk that this was not possible due to current Standing Orders.

HIGH STREET - Cllr B. Spurr read out a list of Stage 3 Safety Audit defects to do with the Houghton Regis High Street. The scheme for the High Street had been paid for by the supermarket chain, Morrisons, in connection with their planning permission for the store to be built. Cllr Spurr was sorry, but the money had now run out, and the argument over who pays for the outstanding defect works had now to be resolved. He was determined that it would be, but his Highways budget was committed. He wanted the works to be done, but it might mean that a road or a footpath in another part of Central Bedfordshire might have to wait that much longer. The next step in the safety examination process would be Safety Audit 4, but that would be the final one, and could not be done until Stage 3 defects had been tackled.

CBC had a contract with Amey, for Highways, until 1st April when Ringway Jacobs would be taking over. Cllr Spurr was keen to get "a fresh pair of eyes" on the problems. He said that CBC had inherited a contract with Amey from Bedfordshire County Council that had restricted what the Council could expect from the Highways contractors, but that said, Amey had been very helpful in agreeing some schemes and turning down others to enable priorities to be switched.

Cllr L Ellaway was interested in comments attributed to a biking incident in the High Street that had not mentioned a crossing. She insisted that she and fellow councillor, K. Wattingham were in the vicinity at the time of the incident and confirmed that it was to do with a crossing, but had not reported it themselves as the police had been at the scene.

HOUGHTON HALL PARK - Cllr Spurr mentioned a shortfall of £250,000 in funding for current plans to do with Houghton Hall Park renovation project, but was confident that in the next 3-4 years CBC would find the money. Tenders for work at the park were due to be opened on 2nd February 2016. Cllr Spurr then left the meeting.

POLICE REPORT - Insp. Clare Thomas, making her debut appearance at the Town Council's offices,  lost no time in agreeing that nuisance bikers were a top issue for the town, just as it was an important issue for Luton, Dunstable and Leighton Buzzard. She apologised for the lack of a police presence at the Houghton Regis Town Council Combating Crime meetings (Link to HRTC minutes).

The Bedfordshire Police force were now split into two units, one covering the north, the other the south. Many police officers and staff had been lost over recent months. Emergency responses would always be dealt with, and Harm and Risk events would always be top priority. However, she admitted that in the past 6-10 months there had been very little community crime policing. To the question of nuisance bikers, Inspector Thomas said they do not have the resources to fully combat the issue. Operation Meteor - a periodic one-day of action to catch bikes being misused- would continue.

The police would have to be more reliant on the public. Police walking around an area was a thing of the past. The police would also be adopting a strategy employed by the Metropolitan Police known as Operation Trident. Inspector Thomas said that the aim was to treat a family in an holistic manner, putting pressure on misdemeanant families in order to get the best results for the community. To end her report the Inspector mentioned that herself and Sgt Linda Wilson would be dedicated to South Beds from 1st March 2016.

Cllr Mrs Goodchild reflected on things that had been said this evening, and urged those present to engage with children. "They will sing like canaries", she said.

TARGETED YOUTH WORK - A report by Groundwork was given explaining the work they do and are planning to do within Houghton Regis. Groundwork had recently absorbed staff from 4Y2P.

The youth club was operating at Bedford Square Community Centre on Tuesday and Wednesdays, and about 15 youths took part. It was said that the Youth Club had been closed for a two week period, as punishment following an incident where fire extinguishers had been let off. Cllr Wattingham expressed concern that it might not have been fair to close it for everyone. In response, the representative from Greensand Trust said there had been a large number of people involved. Letters had been sent to parents, and one-to-ones would be held with certain individuals before they would be allowed back to use the Club.

Groundwork was planning to do detached outreach street work within Houghton Regis and asked councillors for suggestions as to where they might be deployed. They also had plans to go into schools and local academies.

REPORTS ON TASK AND FINISH GROUPS. Very little was said about these reports. They can be read at the Houghton Regis Town Council website, together with further information relating to everything above. Link

- Alan D Winter 2/2/2016