In recent years, it has become increasingly customary for the Parish Council to be consulted on a wide range of major issues affecting the village. The Council has, of course, always been expected to speak for parishioners, and from its earliest days it has regularly done so. However, there is now much more direct contact between the Council and various public and private bodies. Such matters as the supply of electricity, refuse collection, low cost housing, crime prevention and local health care provision have been discussed by Councillors face to face with those responsible for providing these services.
The issue of Local Government Reform has returned only twenty years after Timsbury was placed in the newly created county of Avon. A further instalment of reform is about to take place, and Avon will disappear. During a lengthy process of consultation, the Council has been asked for its views on several possible alternatives. When village opinion was tested in a ‘referendum’ conducted in the newsletter in 1984, fewer than 30% of voters expressed any preference: 12 votes were cast for remaining in Avon and 471 for a return to Somerset. There has never been any great enthusiasm for Avon, and few will regret its demise. But any sentimental allure a return to Somerset might have is outweighed by practical considerations of the present requirements of local government. The new authority of Bath and N.E. Somerset would appear to be the best option offered.
Maintenance of an attractive village environment with it certain quality of life for residents is still fundamental to the work of the Council. Vigilance is required, even in a village, to preserve such essentials as trees, plants and open spaces. The Council continues to allocate funds for this purpose, and it encouraged the Horticultural Society to plant the spring bulbs which bring a touch of seasonal colour to the road- sides. Such hedgerows as remain need careful maintenance and protection from the pressures of modern developers. The recent expert laying of the hedges around the Recreation Field is an important contribution to this task of preservation. The field itself, scene of about a hundred football matches every season, and over fifty games of cricket, requires regular attention. The equally well-used children’s play area absorbed much time and money before being completely re-designed and re-equipped in 1993 with the aid of a substantial grant from Wansdyke District Council.
The likely impact on the environment of building developments and associated increases in traffic must be taken into account whenever planning applications are considered. The Council has endeavoured to minimise the movement of heavy traffic in residential areas of the village and also near the Primary School. A proposed contractor’s tip at High Littleton was opposed because the access road through Timsbury Bottom was felt to be unsuitable. The practice, by some lorry drivers, of using village roads as a ‘short cut’ between major roads and motorway systems gives cause for concern, and may lead to demands for lorry restrictions and traffic calming measures. Traffic problems in North Road, where double yellow lines have been refused, have not been resolved by the provision of car parking facilities near the Youth Club, nor does the Shoppers’ Car Park by the former telephone exchange prevent congestion in the High Street.
Today’s residents expect a good standard of street lighting to be maintained throughout the village. My deficiencies are still referred to the Parish Council for action. The Ha-Ha, though now much reduced in size, still has to be cut and cleared. Footpaths may no longer be the normal routes taken daily to the workplace, but they continue to serve the recreational needs of many walkers. They are now marked, and jealously guarded against encroachment. Controversial attempts to divert them have been challenged at Appeal hearings, and when the existence of a footpath over ‘The Sleight’ was in dispute, the Council supported vigorous and successful attempts to keep it open.
These items have had a natural place on Council agendas for the past one hundred years together with many other matters of greater or lesser importance. One problem, satisfactorily resolved in 1897, is now reappearing. Once again, it is becoming necessary to find suitable land for a replacement burial ground. Some of the problems the first Councillors faced, such as inadequate drainage and sewage systems, have been largely replaced by new and contradictory concerns about overdevelopment on one hand and loss of village amenities on the other.
There was much dismay in 1989 at the closure of the local branch of the Natwest Bank leaving an empty site in the centre of the village, too small for redevelopment. However, after protracted negotiations, this land has been given to the parish, and it is to be laid out as a garden in memory of all those who worked, and sometimes died, in the coalmines which were once so important in the local economy. It is hoped that the garden will be completed during 1995, the centenary year of a tragic accident which claimed the lives of seven men in Upper Conygre pit.
Another centenary, that of the Parish Council has provided an incentive to look back over some of its activities and its role in the recent history of the village. The Minute Books on which this account is based have another interest beyond the factual record they contain; they illustrate one hundred years of change and development in secretarial methods. The laborious and painstaking copperplate script of the nineteenth century, and the use of pen and ink, gradually gives way to pages of entries in biro, followed in 1987 by typewritten sheets, copies of which had been distributed to Councillors prior to their meetings. Finally, there are the minutes produced on a word processor purchased in 1993 to equip the Parish Clerk with modern tools for his job.
Since 1894, Parish Councils have become the basis of local government in many parts of the country. They have outlasted the Rural and Urban District Councils also established in 1894, and some, like Timsbury, will outlast a District Council set up in 1974. Their powers have been strengthened over the years, and it is arguable that further enhancement of these powers would result in more effective and efficient action in the parish than can be achieved by more remote organs of local administration. 1894 may have been a year of some significance in the development of local democracy in place of other non-elected authorities. But a hundred years later, non-elected government bodies abound, and much power is in the hands of politicians far away. Perhaps now is the time to give Parish Councils a greater role in the communities they seek to serve.