About the Parish Council
The First Council
The first meeting of the Highclere Parish Council was held on Friday 14 December 1894 and comprised 5 councillors; there are eight councillors today.
The Hampshire Archives hold many of the old minute books from parish council meetings – visit http://www3.hants.gov.uk/archives for details.
Roles and Responsibilities
There are two sorts of parishes, whose boundaries may or may not coincide:
- Ecclesiastical parishes: centred on an Anglican church with a parochial church council. These no longer play a role in local government; our ecclesiastical parish is St Michael & All Angels, one of five parishes in the North West Hampshire Benefice.
- Civil parishes: which are part of local administration (some are called 'towns')
A civil parish is an independent local democratic unit for villages, smaller towns, and some suburbs of main urban areas. Each parish has a Parish (or Town) Meeting consisting of all its local government electors and most (where the electorate exceeds 200) have a Parish or Town Council. Over 13 million people live in such parishes.
A parish or town council is a small local authority. Its councillors are elected for four years at a time. By-elections may be held to fill vacancies occurring between elections; or the council may co-opt to fill a vacancy. The Council is the corporation of its village or town. Each year the councillors choose a Chairman from amongst their number; in town councils usually called Town Mayor.
Parish councils have a number of formal powers. Many provide allotments, look after playing fields, village greens and leisure facilities. They assist with maintaining or guarding such things as rights of way, bus shelters and public seats, and smaller scale street lighting. An important matter in which they are concerned is the provision of village halls and meeting places. The parish council can do these things by actually providing them itself, or by helping someone else (such as a volunteer or a charity) financially. Parish councils are heavily dependent on voluntary effort.
They have the power to improve the quality of community life by spending money on activities which, in their opinion, are in the interests of the parish or its inhabitants.
Parish councils are the most un-bureaucratic and the least expensive local authority in existence. Their funds are a tiny part of the council tax and they get no general government grant, so they have every incentive to keep expenditures low and economical. Their main source of funds is through a 'Precept'; the amount is voted annually and included in the local council tax. Parish accounts are audited and published each year on the website.
Parish councils have lately become more important because district councils have become larger and therefore more remote. The parish councillors know the village and can (and increasingly often do) represent its views to other authorities like district or county councils and health authorities, providers of transport services, and to Ministries. They are entitled to be consulted on planning applications and are often consulted on such things as schools and roads and they also put the parish's case at public inquiries. Changes to national planning policies have empowered local communities to create 'neighbourhood plans' or to bring forward 'community right to build' orders.
Local residents (who are on the electoral register) elect the parish councillors every four years and they are entitled to go to the annual parish meeting and have their say. The public (and the media) are welcome to attend meetings of the Parish Council.
Parish and town boundaries are reviewed by the Local Government Commission; the aim is to make existing parish and town boundaries correspond better to the social communities in which people live and to create new councils for areas which have not had them before.