COVID impact, crime and a new bandstand all hot topics at town meeting

Royston zoom meeting

The Royston Annual Town meeting took place on via Zoom. - Credit: Archant

The Royston Annual Town meeting took place this evening over Zoom, for the first time in its history 

Around 50 people were present in the meeting - including councillors, Royston's police sergeant and the public. 

Royston town council chairman, Mayor Councillor Robert Inwood opened the meeting, saying: "The pandemic has brought the town together in many ways. We have a great and wonderful community in Royston and it's something I've been so proud of."

He also added that after the pandemic he hopes people will 'think local, shop local' in Royston. 

The mayor awarded trust fund grants to several causes in and around Royston, which he said was a "pleasure to do."

The recipients were: 

- The local branch of the National Childbirth Trust - £500, which will go towards a breastfeeding drop in centre for mums and families in Royston and surrounding villages. Representative Jacqueline Riding was there to accept the grant. 

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- Royston & District Community Transport - A £500 contribution towards the running costs of wheelchair accessible vehicles 

- Royston Art Society - £265. The grant was accepted by Richard Clayton. 

- Royston photographic society £500

The society's Andrew Fox said the grant would go towards their fees for the town hall to house their exhibition at the Royston Arts Festival in September. 

He said COVID has meant members haven't been able to get out and about with their camera but they have been having online talks, lectures and competitions - and they look forward to hopefully putting on their exhibition in September. 

- Royston Rockets BMX Club - Phil Townsend accepted £500 towards investing in new computers as "the whole sport has gone technology mad"

He added that £500 is a very nice chunk of what they need and thanked the town council for the support. 

Royston & District Twinning Association - £500 to go towards a reception the next time they host Royston's German town twinners. Elizabeth Freeman accepted the grant.

Three community service awards were also given out.

The first went to  Brian Norwood for many years of dedication to the to Royston Methodist Church and wider community. 

The second went to Andy and Viv Williams for their "immeasurable contribution to community for last 20 years".

It was said the couple have "worked tirelessly improving lives of people experiencing difficulty" running Royston Foodbank and more before they took their well-earned retirement. 

Viv responded: "It's been a real privilege to work with the community. We have met some amazing young people and families, its been hard work but an absolute joy to be able to do that. Thank you for the award it's really special."

The final award went to Mike Lawrence for his "hard work and continuing support for Royston and District Museum."

He began volunteering at the museum when it opened in 1984, and has now retired from his volunteering - but continues to be a valued resource on Royston history.

Sgt Jon Vine spoke about the decline in several forms of crime in the town - due to the "massive impact" of the coronavirus pandemic.

He praised the community and said the Royston officers had seen "very, very few COVID breaches" which "showed what a kind considerate town we live in". He added that "Other parts of the county haven't been so lucky."

He said at the start of the pandemic there was an increase in domestic violence and domestic issues but that "levelled off quickly".

He also said there was a slight increase in shoplifting, which is to be expected when financial problems arise. 

He said problems with a group of lads causing issues back in July in the town had been resolved. 

He did say that burglaries from homes had nosedived, saying "I can't tell you the last time we have had a burglary on town beat."

The figures included: 

Burglaries in dwellings 77 in the 2019/20 year and 27 in 2020/21 year

Burglaries from places other than homes/dwellings , 114 last year and 58 this year

Criminal damage is down 10 per cent at 158

There was an increase in shoplifting, with 53 incidents.

Violent crimes went from 124 to 83.

total crime dropped 17.6 percent from 2019/20 to 2020/21 with 819 offences - around 2.5 offences a day in the combined Royston and Royston Rural area (from Baldock services to Nuthampstead).

Sgt Vine said: "You still live in one of the safest places in one of the safest counties, no doubt about that.

He said he did want to increase provision for youngsters in the town  and spoke of a potential youth cinema night and sports club events for young people.

Sgt Vine said: "When youth centres were open we got to engage with kids, now we are faceless nameless people to kids and so are they to us. I want kids to know us like they used to."

He also spoke about increasing visibility.

He said "I just want to make Royston and even safer place i have always been proud of work and want to make sure your town is a safe haven still."

He also added, in jest "I am blown away by these crime figures they are excellent, partly down to COVID and partly down to a great sergeant!" 

David Smyth of Royston First BID referenced the  challenging year and spoke about plans to continue to support various initiatives such as free parking after 3pm, and said they are looking to set up a joint venture with PCSOs to have more on the streets. 

He also praised the success of the Christmas light, and spoke of the possibility of a shuttle bus to connect the industrial area to town.

John Davison who is the leader of the town council and chairs the finance committee started his talk referencing the "media frenzy" in 2020 - referring to the former curator of Royston museum's tweets about damaging statues during the Black Lives Matter protests. 

He said "You will all remember the incident that became a media feeing frenzy."

He said council staff had received silent phone calls they were plagued with venomous social media posts, and the police were involved due to credible death threats.

Cllr Davison said: "Our first responsibility of councillors is our staff and we failed them on that occasion and I hope nothing like it happens again."

He praised the market which has remained open during the pandemic, and thanked the community and councillors for their hard work. 

Regarding finances, he said there would be a council tax increase of £2.41 a year, which was criticised later when the floor was opened to the public. 

He said plans going forward were to  promote 'plastic-free Royston', comply with new environmental policy, and look at new community facilities from S106 money.

He also spoke about the proposal to have a new bandstand in Priory Memorial Gardens, "to be used for many events throughout the year"

He said: "There's a lot of work to be done, including being sure this is what you, the people of Royston, want."

He said there would be a consultation with residents.

Marguerite Phillips, chair of the planning committee said in her report that the council had considered 109 applications, which they can make recommendations on that go to the planning authority, North Herts District Council.

Mike Harrison chair of general purposes and highway committee, said many of the plans his committee were looking at had been delayed due to COVID. He said like a bus shelter in Icknield Walk should happen in the not too distant future. 

And he said they have also started to look at a transport hub at the train station but a lot more work is to be done on this before they can move forward. 

He said Royston has been selected to potentially become a 'sustainable travel town' along with eight other towns in the county.  

If Royston achieves the status they would benefit from better bus services, footpaths and a cut in pollution in the town centre.  

He thanked Councillor Tom Perry for his  sustainable travel town work. 

County councillors Fiona Hill and Steve Jarvis also gave reports, speaking about the work to ensure everyone who needs it has received assistance during the pandemic, getting laptops for schoolchildren, the role of the library during the pandemic, speeding issues in the town and a feasibility study in Burns Road. 

Cllr Jarvis did say there was a shortage of COVID testing slots in Royston and more work needs to be done. 

Work on the A505 was discussed, and it was said that Cambs County Council is looking to see what can be done to improve things on their side of the border. 

Cllr Tony Hunter, Royston area committee chair, said litter in the Royston Gateway area was being looked at and the owners had submitted plans including installing at two-metre high fence. 

When the floor was opened to the public to ask questions.

Former town councillor Rod Kennedy criticised the council's 4.97 per cent tax increase despite them having a substantial surplus to go in reserves.

"Now with many people in financial distress you should have frozen the precept and used reserves," he said. 

2think its unreasonable to put the council tax up this year when you don't need to. I accept that income has gone down but so have your expenses."

"you have to remember the money you take from us is not your money, its residents money some of whom can not afford to pay it

Cllr John Davison said: "The increase this year is 4.97 per cent, which sounds a lot but it s 4.97 per cent of a small sum. 

it is £2.41 a year and you have to remember that our precept very low, we do run lean and mean."

"I'd much prefer to have healthy surplus than a deficit.£

"Our forecast is  £360,000, however of that 103,000 is earmarked reserves. It is a long list of items - 20 items - where money is put aside for known future expenditure."

"Our actual general reserves are £193,000."

He said that the appropriate level of general reserves for a town council of our size  6-9 months of their annual expenditure - between £216,000 and £324,000.

Liberal Democrat Cllr Ruth Brown said "I have a lot of sympathy with what Rod has raised and I was unable to support this budget for the same reasons he has given.

Jon Large thanked the councillors for all the work they do - and asked about dog theft and antisocial dog owners on the heath. 

Sgt Jon Vine said: they have few incidents where we have suspicious vehicles reported. He said they have set up 'dog watch' once again in the town so people can sign up and be aware of any incidents."

Clare Swarbrick, Conservators of Therfield Heath and Greens chair said antisocial dog walking was to do with the vast minority of dog owners, and they are currently advertising for a warden. 

It was also mentioned in the meeting about the possibility of residents paying towards the upkeep of the heath, which she said would be welcomed as the heath takes £80,000 to maintain and they receive no local council funding. 

Mr Large also asked about confidence in the town's electricity supply after more than 8,000 homes had a power cut in January and there was another outage today.

Councillor Fiona Hill said she found it "frustrating" and had meetings to improve work with utility companies. 

"We have no direct influence but we can lobby. It is getting better and needs to be even more improved," she said. 

The bandstand Cllr Davison spoke about was a reoccurring topic at the meeting. 

Janet Rossignol-Bubbins said paying for trees to be planted would be better use than a bandstand, and Clare Swarbrick said she was shocked at talk of a new bandstand when the town was without a youth club. 

Cllr Iain Leggett said the current 40-year-old bandstand in Priory Memorial Gardens was in the wrong place in the park

He said a new one "would draw people in, it would give an outside stage for town band, drama groups and  choirs."

He also said if it was popular it would "bring footfall to the town centre - if it's what people want it would generate income for businesses."