In these times when we might be finding it hard to trust the role of our national elected representatives, it is important to understand what motivates the most local of the people we elect – our Parish Councillors. I spoke to Margaret Lane about why she works so hard voluntarily in our best interests...
How long have you been a councillor?
I was elected in December 2002 as a councillor. This was in fact the only time I have actually had to stand for election by the parish residents, as since then we haven’t
had enough candidates come forward to have an election. I was then voted in as Chair in 2005 by the other councillors.
What made you get involved with Parish Council work?
Well, it’s a bit of a story. My husband David and I were both in the action group that fought against the Rolls-Royce use of Hilts Quarry as a landfill site. During the process, members of the protest group attended Parish Council meetings to have a say. It was the Parish Council’s seeming unwillingness to get involved in the fight that triggered me to stand for election. Once the landfill site was closed, I stayed on as I found it interesting and felt that I could continue to work for the community through the council.
What does being a councillor involve?
There is a lot of paperwork to read: with monthly meetings, there are reports to be read for each meeting and in between. You also have to be aware of what the community is concerned about – answering calls and emails from parishioners. There are also sub-groups – burial ground group, finance committee, planning group. An important piece of work we have done in recent years is as part of our role as ‘trustee’ of the Crich recreation ground. We have worked hard to support the Place Project. We also administer the Whatstandwell allotments and contribute to various enhancements to the parish – annual things, such as the floral displays through the summer and Christmas trees, and then one-off projects like bus-shelter enhancement.
Are you paid?
Councillors aren’t paid but can claim expenses.
Is it a political role?
Though councillors can belong to political parties, this isn’t relevant in the work we do. I’m not political and I don’t believe politics play a part in issues at the parish level. The councillors have in mind the best interests of the parish.
What are some of the challenges of the role?
Planning is always a challenge, and it has been particularly challenging over the past few years. Even the production of a Neighbourhood Plan hasn’t protected the parish from inappropriate development in the way it should have done. The Parish Council is simply a consultee in the planning process – it doesn’t have any say in the decision other than as a consultee. Some people think the Parish Council should be able to ‘block’ or ‘approve’ a planning decision; however, all we can try to do is represent the views of the community in the consultation process. Other examples where the Parish Council doesn’t have a decisive role are roads, parking and police matters. However, we can and often do guide parishioners on which authority to approach for help.
What achievements while on the council are you most proud of?
The Neighbourhood Plan is a very well put together piece of work which took a lot of people a lot of time. Experts were employed, volunteers were essential and it took three years. There has been a lot of positive feedback from the parish about it. I really hope that the change in administration and attitude at Amber Valley Borough Council means that the Neighbourhood Plan will start to carry the weight it should. Just over 46% of parishioners turned out to vote in the referendum to approve the Plan – higher than any other Neighbourhood Plan turnout across the borough. When I was told this on the night of the count, it really was a moment where being a councillor felt good.
Why are parish councils important for communities like ours?
Because we are one of the ways that people can make their views known to a wider audience. We provide an important conduit to the borough and county councils. There are also some jobs that we can do better by handling them locally.
I understand the Parish Council supports voluntary organisations. How?
Any organisation can apply for a grant once a year and we do award some grants every year to community organisations. But the best way the Parish Council can support the community is by supporting the Glebe Field Centre (we own a small percentage of the building and make a monthly contribution of over £800 to the Glebe running costs). Because it is a very important hub for the parish for all sorts of groups, this is a very tangible way the Parish Council can support the community.
Why should people consider putting themselves forward to be on the council?
It is very rewarding to get involved in the community. To meet people who are doing things in the community and work with them to support what they’re doing. I’ve always been involved in the community, even before becoming a councillor. However, being on the council has widened this and it is great to work as part of a team involved in the community to the extent that the Parish Council is. I feel very lucky to live in a community like Crich Parish. If you’re at all interested in getting involved yourself, just do it!
Margaret was interviewed by Andrew Auld