Brief History of the Parish Councils

Parish councils are the first tier of local government. They are elected bodies responsible for an area known as a civil parish to distinguish it from the ecclesiastical parish. Civil parishes and their governing parish councils evolved as ecclesiastical parishes began to be relieved of what became considered to be civil responsibilities.  Since 1895, a parish council elected by the general public or a parish meeting administers a civil parish and is the level of local government below a district council. Every civil parish has a parish meeting, consisting of all the electors of the parish. Generally a meeting is held once a year. A civil parish may have a parish council which exercises various local responsibilities given by statute. If a parish has fewer than 200 electors it is usually deemed too small to have a parish council, and instead will only have a parish meeting. Parish Councils are the most local form of elected government.  They are allowed to raise money through a compulsory ‘precept’ which forms part of the Council Tax and is collected on their behalf by District Councils. Parishes can set their precept at the level of their choice. They can also obtain grants for specific projects from District Councils, Government Departments, and charitable foundations. 


Powers of Parish Councils 

The 1965 Royal Commission on Local Government recommended that local councils should be empowered to do what they pleased for the benefit of their people and a consequence of this was the important 1972 Local Government Act which removed many of the restrictions on the activities of parish councils.                                                                                                  

Parish councils have powers to provide some facilities themselves, or they can contribute towards their provision by others. There are large variations in the services provided by parishes, but they can include the following:                                          

  • Allotments

  • Support and encouragement of arts and crafts

  • Provision of village halls

  • Recreation grounds, parks, children's play areas, playing fields and swimming baths

  • Cemeteries and crematoria

  • Maintenance of closed churchyards

  • Cleaning and drainage of ponds etc.

  • Control of litter

  • Public conveniences

  • Creation and maintenance of footpaths and bridleways

  • Provision of cycle and motorcycle parking

  • Acquisition and maintenance of rights of way

  • Public clocks

  • War memorials

  • Encouragement of tourism


They may also provide the following subject to the consent of the county council:

  • Bus shelters

  • Signposting of footpaths

  • Lighting of footpaths

  • Off-street car parks

  • Provision, maintenance and protection of roadside verges


Representative powers                                                                                                            
Parish councils must be notified by the district or county council of:
  • All planning applications in their areas

  • Intention to provide a burial ground in the parish

  • Proposals to carry out sewerage works

  • Footpath and bridleway (more generally, 'rights of way') surveys

  • Intention to make byelaws in relation to hackney carriages, music and dancing  promenades, sea shore and street naming  


Parish Council procedures 

Parish Councils must:

  • Appoint a Chairman responsible for the smooth running of meetings and for ensuring that all council decisions are lawful.

  • Appoint a Clerk as the Parish Council's advisor and administrator.

  • Have at least five members. The National Association of Local Councils recommends seven as the minimum number needed for good administration.                                                 

  • Appoint a Responsible Financial Officer to manage the finances in a sound and professional manner. The RFO is often the Clerk.                                                                                         

  • Appoint an independent and competent Internal Auditor.                                                                

  • Comply with Employment Law, including equal opportunities and disability legislation, and the Freedom of Information and Data Protection Acts.                                                                  

  • Hold a minimum of four meetings a year, one of which must be the Annual Meeting. In practice most Parish Councils meet monthly.                                                                           

  • Parish Council elections are held every four years. Parish Councils have the power to co-opt members if there are insufficient candidates to fill all places.





Chilton Polden Parish Council consists of seven councillors who are elected every four years.  A list of the names and contact details of councillors appears on our website. Anyone wishing to contact a councillor is asked to please get in touch during reasonable hours.

Councillors attend as many Parish Council meetings as they can and additional meetings and training where necessary.  Representatives of the council attend site meetings to discuss planning applications and their comments are considered as part of the consultation process.   A member of the council may attend planning meetings at Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset County Council.  Notifications of some meetings can be very tight.

Although the Parish Council represents the residents the council meetings are held to conduct the business of the Council. If a resident has a matter they want help with it is up to them to contact the Council. 

All residents are welcome to attend parish council meetings during which there is an allocated time for members of the public to speak.  A Parish Council works within a strict framework of rules and regulations and only items on the agenda may be discussed at the meeting.  The Agenda is the responsibility of the Clerk who is always happy to consider items suggested by members of the public. Once an item has been discussed and a decision made it cannot be brought up again for six months.  These rules are made by parliament.  By law the Clerk needs a week’s notice of agenda items from the councillors to adhere to legal deadlines.

The Localism Bill was introduced to Parliament on 13th December 2010.  It sets out a series of proposals to achieve a substantial and lasting shift in power away from central government and towards local people. They include: new freedoms and flexibilities for local government; new rights and powers for communities and individuals; reform to make the planning system more democratic and more effective, and reform to ensure that decisions about housing are taken locally.    This Bill will devolve greater powers to councils and neighbourhoods and give local communities more control over housing and planning decisions.  At present the Parish Council is one of a number of bodies consulted in planning matters.  Whatever the Parish Council resolves to comment planning wise can be overturned by Sedgemoor District Council, Somerset County Council and the Planning Inspectorate.  Many applications have gone against the Parish Council comments. 

There is sometimes a misconception that the Clerk works for the residents of the Parish. This is not the case. The Clerk is employed by the Parish Council and his/her role is to work for the Council as a corporate body, and not any of the Councillors individually or the public. 

The parish council has responsibility for local issues, including setting an annual precept (local rate) to cover the council’s operating costs and producing annual accounts for public scrutiny. The parish council evaluates local planning applications and works with the local police, district council officers, and neighbourhood watch groups on matters of crime, security, and traffic. The parish council's role also includes initiating projects for the maintenance and repair of parish facilities, as well as consulting with the district council on the maintenance, repair, and improvement of highways, drainage, footpaths, public transport, and street cleaning. Conservation matters (including trees and listed buildings) and environmental issues are also the responsibility of the council.

Chilton Polden falls within the non-metropolitan district of Sedgemoor, which was formed on April 1st 1974 under the Local Government Act 1972 and is responsible for local planning and building control, local roads, council housing, environmental health, markets and fairs, refuse collection and recycling, cemeteries and crematoria, leisure services, parks, and tourism.

Somerset County Council is responsible for running the largest and most expensive local services such as education, social services, libraries, main roads, public transport, policing and fire services, trading standards, waste disposal and strategic planning.

The Parish of Chilton Polden is also part of Bridgwater and West Somerset Parliamentary constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. It elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election, and is part of the South West England constituency of the European Parliament which elects seven Members of the European Parliament using the method of party-list proportional representation.