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News  »  The Over-Willingham boundary (again!)

   The Over-Willingham boundary (again!)    6 February, 2016

The current boundary line was established in 1618, almost 400 years ago, and it didn’t come about by chance. For a long time Over and Willingham had shared the common land (a mixture of pasture and water meadows) between the villages, but overstocking led to frequent fodder shortages, and drainage was always an ‘issue’. Disputes kept breaking out and eventually a truce of sorts was brokered – and the agreed boundary line was marked by a 12-ft ditch, a ditch that still exists today.

Parish boundaries were very important in times past because that determined where people could get help in times of hardship. Some Parishes still conduct a “Beating of the Bounds” ceremony every few years to keep the tradition alive – an activity that involves people of all age groups, especially the youngsters, to ensure that the precise boundaries are common knowledge. Modern legislation won’t allow children to be beaten or thrown into watercourses to help them remember the key points along the boundary, as used to happen on these occasions, but marker posts can easily be moved or memories simply fade as years pass by.

Willingham and Over have developed in different ways. Willingham has a much wider range of retail outlets than Over, and it has large companies like Willingham Auctions and Berrycroft Stores operating in its centre. That’s just the way things are, and we don’t go round all day moaning about it. However, Over does have two industrial estates, Norman Way and Highgate, while Willingham doesn’t have any – and that really ‘bugs’ them. It has led to several attempts over the years to claim Highgate as theirs, the most recent one being made by their Parish Council in 2011.

Lying behind all this is the possibility, floated from (election!) time to time, that some of the business rate may one day be handed over to Parish Councils so they can encourage business activity in the areas they know so well. Town and Parish Councils are naturally very keen for this to happen, but at present central Government isn’t interested in parting with any money. However, it may happen one day, so some Parishes are doing all they can to enclose as many businesses as possible within their boundaries, while other Parishes are doing their best to hold on to the businesses they already have!

If the District Council receives a petition signed by more than 7½% of the electorate in Willingham and Over (that’s around 400 signatures in all, which need not be evenly split between the Parishes), they have to set up a Community Governance Review and reach a decision within a year. They aren’t at all keen to do that, because it involves a considerable cost in staffing time and has to be fitted into future work commitments, but they don’t have a choice.

Willingham’s petition is already under way, and we have heard tales of ‘scare stories’ being used to persuade people to sign (e.g. we could ‘dump’ an undesirable development on their village border), and of undecided people being told that their names are going down anyway. Hopefully these are just isolated incidents, but people may not be aware of all the underlying issues when confronted by an enthusiast with a clipboard.

Over Parish Council is considering how best to respond, but the first step must be to let people know what this dispute is all about.

For further details, set out in SCDC's Civic Affairs Committee papers (Item 6, Officer's Report + 4 PDFs), click here

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