A brief history of the Parish Council
For many years before 1894, the affairs of the parishes had been administered by a vestry, or meeting of the village inhabitants. Inevitably these meetings were dominated by the squire, the parson and the principal ratepayers and some became ‘select vestries’ only open to those people deemed ‘suitable’ to serve. In many parishes, particularly rural ones, the system worked perfectly well, in others it was virtually non-existent or very inefficient.
The Local Government Act 1894 proposed the creation of Parish Councils and excluded the Church from formal participation in Local Government - the functions of the parish were to be administered by laymen. Thus on 1st December 1894, the first meeting of Oakley Parish Council was held at the Parish Room. At the time only Church Oakley and Malshanger fell within the Parish - Newfound, Pardown and East Oakley were within the Parish of Wootton St Lawrence. Deane was also a separate parish.
The six members present at that first meeting were James Balch, a carpenter who lived in Station Road, James Fifield, the Railway Station Master, Rev. J Scott-Ramsey (not the rector) of Sunbeam Cottage, Job Oliver, a farm labourer living in Station Road and Mrs Caroline Blewden, the Postmistress. The only apparent item of business conducted at that first meeting was to elect the sixth member, William Wither Bramston Beach of Oakley Hall, as the first Chairman.
In 1966 a special Parish meeting was arranged to discuss the amalgamation of Oakley Parish Council and the East Oakley ward of Wootton St Lawrence Parish Council and a resolution was passed on 1st July 1966 to form one Parish Council. Elections took place in May 1968 and the first meeting of the newly enlarged Oakley Parish Council was held later that month.
Under a further reorganisation in 1976 the Deane Parish Meeting was amalgamated with Oakley Parish Council and the name was changed to Oakley & Deane Parish Council. The enlarged area is divided into six wards with thirteen members representing a population of approximately 5,400.
Initially members of the Council were elected annually and meetings were held on a quarterly basis with little or no business being transacted. This later changed to elections every four years and bi-monthly meetings. Now meetings are held monthly with two additional Planning Committee meetings a month.
The Parish Council Minute books provide a fascinating insight into the life of the village over the years and illustrate that concerns of the residents do not really change.
1895: The question of the siting of street lights in Church Oakley was discussed - we still regularly discuss this topic nearly 125 years on!
1917: The Parish Council was of the opinion that no further houses for the working class were required in the Parish.
1926: Complaints made about road surfaces - sharp flints were being put down in an irregular fashion, were not being rolled and with no earth covering them.
1937: Request made for fencing and danger lights to be erected at Rectory Road pond as two vehicles had recently been stranded there.
1937: A note was sent to residents regarding an air raid precautions scheme organised by Sir Jeremiah Colman, one of the Parish Councillors.
1948: Discussions held to include Oakley Parish in the Borough of Basingstoke - objections made - we kept our independence!
1952: The Clerk, Miss Edith Mabel Allen resigned after nearly thirty years of service. Some sixty years later Mrs Sally Warner retired - again after nearly thirty years of service to a very much larger and busier Parish Council.
Much has changed since 1894, despite the impression given by the “The Vicar of Dibley” TV series. Parish Councils are closely regulated and the amount of administrational bureaucracy and red tape has increased exponentially in the past few years, with an accompanying rise in costs of audit and insurance. On the other hand, with lines of responsibility more clearly drawn, there now appears to be no general animosity towards the church and some villages now have the parson on the Parish Council.
The Local Government Act, 1972, is the one most often referred to when describing the modern powers and responsibilities of Parish Councils but it is augmented by many earlier and later Acts, such as The Criminal Justice and Public Order, Act 1994, which, on the face of it, would not appear to relate to Parish Councils but which gave them a long needed ability to pay for measures to combat crime and the fear of crime in villages.
Parish Councils may only spend public money on projects or actions for which they have a Statutory Power. Breaking this rule is likely to result in a Parish Council’s accounts being refused by the auditor and, possibly, the individual councillors being required to repay the money illegally expended.
There are still, as there was in 1894, only two powers which the Parish Council must consider using and that is to provide allotments for the labouring poor, if asked for them, and to provide burial grounds when the Home Office has closed the existing sites (usually churchyards when full). All other powers are voluntary - the Parish Council is not obliged to exercise them and indeed the majority would find it difficult to raise enough money to do so on a permanent basis.