Annual Town Meeting

The Mayor Councillor Sandy Best reported to the Annual Town Meeting held on 17 April on the concluding Civic Year. The report is below.

The Mayor, Councillor Sandy Best

"Firstly, in looking at the national stage, our work and representation has continued. We work extensively with the National Association of Local Councils, the National Association of British Market Authorities, and the Society of Local Council Clerks. It was an honour for Oswestry and our Town Clerk that David should be appointed as the President of the Society of Local Council Clerks for 2018, the professional body for the sector representing some 5,000 members. David travelled all around the country promoting Oswestry and his profession and even attended a Conference in America with Clerk colleagues from all around the world. The word about Oswestry certainly went far and wide.

The year has also seen the growing establishment of the Oswestry Business Improvement District that will generate £1.4 million of new money over the next five years. The initiative was facilitated by the Town Council and also funded in terms of a substantial grant and loan. We wish the BID every success and look forward to working with them and sharing agendas before their next business referendum.

Strategically the Council has played a significant part in planning the future of Oswestry. We have supported Shropshire Council in the development of their economic growth strategy and alongside this, we have taken place in co-ordination workshops looking at the review of Place Plan and Local Plan. Linked into this has been the exciting opportunity to work with partners to collectively identify steps for future master planning of the town. These opportunities include the Growth Corridor, Oswestry Innovation Park, Park Hall, and the One Public State proposal. We are excited that further to these debates is the bid, that has been submitted on behalf of the town by Shropshire Council, to the Future High Streets Fund. This £650 million fund was launched by the Government at Christmas and we are pleased that our representations have persuaded Shropshire Council to present both Oswestry and Shrewsbury as their nominations for Phase One of funding. A very comprehensive document has been provided by working with partners and and we wait for the outcome.

Oswestry has now secured a renewed Service Level Agreement with the National Association of British Market Authorities for three years. This will present funding opportunities in excess of £100,000. The discussions that have taken place have also seen the decision of our Town Clerk to leave Oswestry after working for the authority for some 44 years with the last 35 years as its Town Clerk. David will leave us in the summer to become the new Chief executive of the National Association of British Market Authorities. I am delighted to confirm that our Assistant Town Clerk, Arren Roberts, following a selection process, has been chosen as our next Town Clerk. Arren is the third Town Clerk that we have grown within the organisation and we all wish him every success when he takes up office.

The Town Council is very much a key player regarding the major events that attract footfall in the town centre. Our markets have moved into the streets and have been well received and stability has been brought to a worrying trend of market decline as experienced in Oswestry, and similar sized market towns around the country.

We have agreed that we will provide the organisation and all the arrangements for the Oswestry Food Festival for 2019 onwards, and we are again repeating our successful Oswestry Balloon Carnival with various partners. The site of 32 balloons taking off from the Park last August Bank Holiday weekend was a wonderful spectacle and attracted many visitors to the town. This year we want to go one better and hopefully the weather will support us to enable the two-day Festival to be delivered in its entirety.

Our Christmas Light Switch-On and Christmas Live were major attractions for Oswestry during the Christmas period. A huge thanks to our schools and young people for making these events so special, that were real showcases of Oswestry at its best.

A major highlight of the year was the unveiling, in November, of the Wilfred Owen statue that was commissioned and funded by the Town Council. The national and local publicity was considerable and firmly put Oswestry on the map as the birthplace of the most famous World War One poet. What wonderful commemorative events we enjoyed within the Wilfred Owen Festival and Remembrance Sunday 2018 witnessed one of the largest parades in Oswestry in living memory as the town and its visitors came together to remember the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War.

Our Bonfire & Fireworks evening was another huge success. Just a few days ago we gave out some £7,000 to local organisations and good causes. Our sincere thanks go to our partners, Oswestry Borderland Rotary Club, for their support in providing this welcome event in the Oswestry calendar.

As is the case each year, the Town Council has been a strong voice in advocating local issues and making representations. Through the Oswestry Health Group, that we facilitate with Owen Paterson MP as Chairman, we have been a strong voice in local health matters making representations around Accident & Emergency services, Future Fit, Regional Health Centres, Maternity, Ambulance provision, and performance. We have been consistent to ensure that Oswestry gets the best deal and the deal that it deserves in terms of all health provision.

Councils are often criticised, but I believe that this Council is open about everything that it does and we try to get that message across via social media. I am proud that we have nearly 2,900 followers on Twitters, our Facebook is widely followed, and our Website attracts over 25,000 visitors each year. The public session at our meetings has been well subscribed and we are grateful to the Advertizer and Shropshire Star for their regular coverage of our meetings.

I am often asked to give some examples of services that we provide and it is interesting that some 75,000 visitors use the public conveniences on our Central Car Park each year. The Council is responsible for over 500 trees, we look after 457 footway lights and have in excess of 22,600 internments in Oswestry Cemetery. The list of statistics is endless but these are just a snapshot of Council services.

Lastly, the Town Council clearly has an interest in the present and future of our high street and the town centre. We are a key player in promoting the town centre and footfall. In 2018 Oswestry was successful in being the nomination from the RHS Heart of England in Bloom to be its representative in the National RHS Britain in Bloom competition. Our aim in 2019 is to get back in those National finals and bring more accolades back to Oswestry.

Bloom is not just about summer activities. It is an all year round project with its community emphasis. A favourite Bloom competition is the best decorated house with Christmas Lights. We also welcome shoppers to Oswestry with our Christmas Lights. We have extended our Lease arrangements in respect of Christmas decorative lighting for another 3 years and are looking to completely refresh the scheme for 2019.

Importantly we have a large calendar of market related events for the forthcoming year. As well as being a direct provider of activities and events, we also assist others who are also encouraged to provide events for Oswestry, such as our Community Games. Rest assured that these are exciting times for Oswestry and the Town Council is very much at the forefront of promoting our wonderful town.

As we move to the end of the Civic Year I would like to thank all my colleagues on the Town Council for their support throughout the year, and also all the staff at the Town Council. We do work as a partnership and as a result are a strong voice for the town.

In conclusion, the Council has taken many accolades in recent years and it is now important that we continue to build on these successes, and that we continue to do the very best for the town of Oswestry, its residents, and our many visitors."

Friday 26 April 2019

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