Letters to the Editor, December 4, 2014

Help and advice will be offered to serving and ex armed forces members

Help and advice will be offered to serving and ex armed forces members - Credit: Archant

CLLR Elfan Ap Rees is quoted as saying that it is only because of ‘local intransigence’ that work on a multi-use games area (MUGA) for the Grove Park tennis courts has not been able to progress further.

There is a lack of logic here. The college - a dynamic organisation if ever there was one - has the money waiting to be spent, the church has no objection to a MUGA and there is strong public support for improved sports facilities.

The determination of Cllr Ap Rees and North Somerset Council to turn all or part of the tennis courts into an extension of the car park is at the root of the whole problem now. It is only their intransigence that is holding things up.

MARTHA PERRIAM

Upper Church Road, Weston


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IN RESPONSE to the letter of November 27 from Cllr Tom Leimdorfer, there is at least one glaring inaccuracy in his reference to this council’s increase in council tax for the lowest income families.

His argument appears to be based around this, stating it as a fact, but the actuality is, this council does not include child benefit and also disregards the first 25 per cent of any child maintenance in the income calculation for a single parent.

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PAULINE PRIESTMAN

Clarence Road East, Weston

I HAD a smile when I read the letter from Councillor Elfan Ap Rees headed ‘Fill me with dread’.

He puts forward a strong argument against North Somerset joining with a Greater Bristol Authority and much as it pains me to say so, I agree with his sentiments.

However, does Cllr Ap Rees not consider that his criticism of Bristol council regarding being “poorly run, overstaffed…with fractious quarrels between a largely disenfranchised council with one man, the mayor, making all the decisions...” smacks a little of the pot calling the kettle black?

Look into your political mirror Cllr Ap Rees. You will find that your reflection will be a mirror image of all you espouse as bad in another council.

We have, in North Somerset Council (NSC) a governing body that acts in an almost identical manner to the one so well described by Cllr Ap Rees. Perhaps through his own experiences within NSC he understands more than most the inner workings of a politburo style of government. How else can he explain why we have a second tier of ‘assistant executive’ who have no mandate and no authority and appear to be no more than a buffer between those who need a decision and those that make them.

Once again our deputy chairman has made comments that are merely political posturing and that on closer inspection are deeply flawed. If he continues in this vein perhaps we should consider a new award for councillors who continue to dig themselves into deeper and deeper holes. Maybe we could call it ‘The Golden Shovel’.

I would welcome suggestions for this years nominations. I know who I’ll vote for.

I believe the majority of North Somerset residents are fed up to the back teeth with all the posturing and in-fighting within our own council without worrying about Bristol.

The forthcoming local elections will give us the opportunity to voice our concerns and elect a council that cares. One that is free from party allegiances and powerbases, That can only happen if we are prepared to elect a body of independent, ethically sound men and women who are prepared to speak their minds without fear or favour and do what is best, not for themselves but for the people that matter, the men women and children who make up this wonderful community in which we live.

JULIAN NORRIS

Prospective Independent Candidate North Somerset First Independents, Old Mill Way, Weston

I WRITE with reference to the Mercury’s story concerning the proposed metro mayor and Robert Craig’s reply dated November 27.

We live in a democracy and preliminary discussions with Bath and North East Somerset, South Gloucester and North Somerset councils is a resounding ‘No’ to a metro mayor as suggested by George Ferguson, Bristol’s elected mayor, and that’s the view across the political spectrum of those authorities.

Putting decision-making into the hands of one individual would be a retrograde step and in many ways would be a return to the bad old days of Avon County Council.

CLLR PETER BRYANT

Executive member for the environment, North Somerset Council

Beach Road, Weston

THE Winter Gardens is an iconic building situated in a prime position and was built for the use of Weston’s residents and visitors.

When it was extended years ago it was done sympathetically and in keeping with the original building, adding more space and facilities for community use.

To have two monstrous extensions tacked on to create yet another college campus will be just ‘another nail in the coffin’ for Weston and the tourist trade.

This ‘mish mash’ will hardly look very professional and it doesn’t seem a viable proposition to combine a college venue with one used by the community.

It houses the Tourist Information Centre and is the only purpose-built building in Weston capable of holding so many diverse and large events: wedding receptions; musical shows; dances; conferences; junior arts; fairs; etc. All of this Weston benefits from and it is used and visited by hundreds of people of all ages. Where is there an alternative building like the Winter Gardens in the town? It is so wrong and should not be allowed to happen. We are gradually losing everything of any significance in Weston.

Dr Paul Phillips, the college’s principal, should be looking for either a building plot to create a purpose-built facility, or existing empty buildings that can be modified. It was a lost opportunity when RAF Locking became vacant. This was a university campus in the making and would have housed everything on just one site, including student accommodation already on site, plentiful car parking, plus land to extend even more. However, there is still land available on that site – the snow dome, that isn’t going to happen. There is a building plot for sale in Ashcombe Road. There is also land next to the railway station. The Loxton Road campus sits on quite a lot of land, which surely could accommodate further buildings.

The proposed ‘extensions’ are for a Law and Professional Studies University Centre. How about the empty magistrate’s court and the adjoining multi-storey police station which presumably will be sold, as the police have moved out to save costs. But being cynical, that won’t bring in the revenue, as North Somerset Council doesn’t own these buildings presumably.

Dr Phillips vows that community use will be protected and been enhanced if the venue is handed to him. Yet in the same article he says that the Winter Gardens historic ballroom could make the perfect home for the performing arts and musical theatre students. Already he’s thinking of encroaching on the existing building and wanting the ballroom that is the ‘jewel in the crown’. So much for community use. The college had the chance to buy the Blakeyhay Theatre a few years ago – yet another missed opportunity. How about the performing arts students taking over the defunct library?

It has also been mooted about using Dolphin Square as possible student accommodation. What about the plans for the cinema, bowling alley, restaurants, retail units? Weston needs tourism and something for residents to come into town for – not desecration. If 2,000 residential units are created in and around the town there won’t be a lot of room for leisure and retail operators to move to Weston.

Is there any actual chance of Weston residents having a say and being listened to on this very important matter.

JULIE POWER

Exeter Road, Weston

I WONDER whose idea it was to even considering letting North Somerset Council together with the Weston College develop our Winter Gardens for use as a halls of residence for students and as an education centre and venue. But right here in the centre of our town and seafront, we are led to believe that will continue to flourish.

But whatever we are told, I will bet you that it will all be lost to the people of Weston.

Why is it that all of this has been decided behind closed doors? This should have been put to the full council where all of the facts could be discussed.

None of this proposed joining of minds ie the Weston College and our council can be good for Weston.

How can a four storey block building complement our Winter Gardens’ classic appearance when the existing college building is looked upon as one of Weston’s worst designed buildings?

We are told by the college that it was the council which proposed this link up.

I ask if the college is so keen to develop and expand what it and the council should do is find somewhere with plenty of space to expand as required.

The council and the college should get together and think again. There is an ideal site close to town, plenty of car parking space, close to the town centre, large enough for everything the college and council need and it’s the old gas works and this is where they should build their halls of residences for students and all that will go with it.

I say to both parties please think again.

LAURENCE F ORME

Shrubbery Avenue, Weston

I HAVE owned property in St James Street for a number of years. Unfortunately it didn’t prove to be a good investment and the building is worth considerably less than what I paid for it.

The main reason, of course, is that Dolphin Square has been demolished and there is virtually no footfall in St James Street.

Businesses in the area are desperate for customers. The rent I get for my property is a pittance as to what I was getting five years ago.

I have read in the Mercury that work on the development would start shortly, but now it seems McLarens cannot guarantee a start date.

I have an awful feeling that this could develop into another Tropicana fiasco, but of course it is far worse because people are losing their livelihood. Why on earth was the square demolished without there being watertight contracts signed and with substantial deposits?

The building housed a 10-pin bowling alley, a market, restaurants and cafés, a couple of fair sized stores, several self-contained flats and several smaller shops.

Surely it would have been better to spend money on renovating the existing premises.

What can now be done? I personally don’t like the idea of building student accommodation over the Winter Gardens, perhaps it might be better to build the accommodation in Dolphin Square.

There is, of course, a simple solution to the problem, so simple that I am sure the council would find all sorts of reasons why it can’t be done.

In the summer the coaches drop their clients on the seafront near the Tropicana. Most of the customers are elderly and many are using frames and walking sticks. They not only have to make their way into town, they have to walk back again.

I guarantee that everyone using the coaches would much prefer to be dropped off in town and what better spot than Dolphin Square? Immediately the businesses in the area would notice a substantial increase in their trading.

JAMES FREDRICKS

Bentley Road, Weston

IT WAS with great interest that I read the article on the adverse affect Tesco express has on the local community.

As far as I can remember there is only one business closed down due to Tesco express and that was another national shop selling similar food items.

As a local resident, living a stone’s throw from Tesco express, I must say that the store saves me a great deal of money every week.

I must admit I am not a big fan of Tesco and its policies but you printed comments from Mr Canniford who runs a rival store not too far away, surely it’s obvious he would be biased towards a rival which sells its items a heck of a lot cheaper.

What hypocrisy from the man who charges local people to use a debit or credit card.

On top of this he charges higher prices than other similar outlets in Weston.

I personally know of five business owners in the Grove Park area who shop at Tesco because of this.

Maybe Mr Canniford you should look at how you could help the local community before running down others who offer a good service to local people and businesses alike.

P RITCHIE

Boulevard, Weston

I HAVE just got back from an abortive attempt at going for a walk in

Kewstoke on the beach with my daughter - the reason, our council has decided to close the toilets in Kewstoke until next year.

Not really a problem you are thinking - not if you don’t have a severely disabled child who is obsessed with toilets and prone to very aggressive outbursts if she can’t get into a toilet when she needs to.

This stupid council decision has effectively meant that I am now barred from walking on the beach with my daughter until next year when they deign to re-open the toilets.

Added to that, I got punched in the head every few seconds all the way into Weston, not the safest way to drive your car down the toll road.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the rest of the toilets in town were open and clean - try using the one in Clarence Park, it hasn’t been open, or usable for weeks, and when it was my daughter and I were unfortunate enough to follow a bloke in there who made such an awful mess of the place. And this in a park full of kids who would be using the park toilet during the rest of the day.

This very same council made the decision to close the youth centre where the disabled children’s playscheme took place and moved it to a much smaller venue, thus reducing the number of children who could attend and effectively (again) barring my daughter from attending.

The European Court even found this unfair and found against the council, did they change it? Not a chance.

JO COOMBE

Somerdale Avenue, Milton

I AM one of the 33,000 adults in North Somerset classed ‘inactive’ and do much more than half an hour of exercise a week.

I walk with my dog four miles every day, I garden which includes walking

behind the mower and digging etc, I am an active do-it-yourselfer and am generally fit for a 70 something.

So why was I classified ‘inactive’? When I questioned why, I was told it is because I do not attend a gym.

Seems to me it makes 33,000 inactive adults a bit of nonsense if my experience

is anything to go by.

ROBERT LOWE

The Swallows, Locking Castle

I WAS very pleased to see the poppies and crosses in The Memorial Garden at the bottom of Grove Road, and Milton Road, Milton.

What a shame about the lack of respect shown by irresponsible dog owners letting their dogs foul this garden, also the cans, bottles and wrappers thrown down.

Please could the council supply a litter bin in this area.

HELEN WHEATLEY

Woodcliff Road, Weston

LIAM Fox’s suggestion that a Yatton bypass should be built before new houses is at best unhelpful, and at worst cheap political rhetoric.

Talk of a bypass is not going to help residents now or in the near future.

Let’s get real. People need to realise that Yatton would need to double in size to generate enough money from development to fund a bypass. Where else could the money come from? Strategically the need to bypass Yatton is not proven. To get it into perspective, residents of Banwell (where the need has been identified) have been waiting more than 30 years for a bypass.

Liam Fox’s comments deflect attention from the real issue. North Somerset Council determined its housing need, resulting in its Core Strategy. This was democratically fully consulted with the towns and villages, but because the National Planning Policy Framework is weighted heavily in favour of development, we now have the threat of unsustainable and inappropriate development in our area.

The crux of the matter is the lack of local democracy and the solution is to get this legislation changed (although it won’t help with applications already in the pipeline). Such a change will only be made through the ballot box next May - and then only if you are fortunate enough to find a political party that is interested in local democracy.

The help we need from Liam Fox concerns the scale of this unsustainable development and how we can get our local views heard by the Government.

North Somerset’s Yatton Ward councillors are working hard to resist where possible the speculative developments coming forward, and where we can’t, getting the maximum benefit for local people - which could include improving traffic management but realistically will fall short of building a bypass.

Unless, of course, Liam Fox can find about £20million in the next few weeks.

TONY MOULIN

Independent councillor for Yatton Ward, North Somerset Council

Court Avenue, Yatton

HAVING lived in North Somerset for more than 40 years, I feel that I can speak with authority about the area. Weston especially.

I remember when our town was buzzing with so much to do and people everywhere. Shops full, little side streets where funky and fabulous, stores had all sorts of things to catch your eye. Those days are gone.

I have recently spoken with people in Bristol, Clevedon and other areas, who ask what on earth is going on in Weston? They heard about the state of it, the mess it’s in and the lack of love for it by some of the people living and working here. When they asked these questions, their faces reflected the concern someone has when a person is critically ill and with little hope of recovery.

Good news, there is a doctor in the house and people, it’s time to wipe the tears away. Weston has so much potential, yes, let’s give a nod to Victoriana, but there’s far, far more that can be done to get Weston on the map for all the right reasons so that the reputation it currently has as a low aspirational, binge drinking, vision deficit, dumbed down, tacky place to be, is left behind.

I would like to publicly thank those shops who have not deserted us: Walker & Ling; Cameo; Cecil Walker; Leavers; M & S; WH Smith; butchers and newsagents. You were all here when I was a young teen and you’re still here now. I salute you. And a thank you to those newbies who are really struggling. Have hope. This is a new day and I for one want to bring the best of all the city has to offer, to our town. The best of retail, culture, art, entertainment, cafés, restaurants, architecture and infrastructure. I want our youth to be spoilt for choice on Friday evenings after working hard at school, college and university. I want the elders feeling safe going to dinner and the theatre, families do not have to drive miles to get a great, inexpensive experience in their down time. Looking after locals first will then naturally attract tourism too.

I’m not the doctor by the way, we all are, at least those who have caught the vision for our town. Together we have the remedy, the medication, that will bring this town back from the brink of death and re-invent and ignite it, so that people from far and wide want some of what we have, and, with a smile ask ‘what’s happening in Weston? I’m hearing it’s the place to be!’

Let’s be the change we want to see.

MEL ASHWORTH

Prospective Independent Candidate, North Somerset First, Langford Road, Weston

ANOTHER NHS saga? Well yes it is, but you may not think it worth printing because it is not a tale of criticism and therefore not a saga of complaint that always seems to make the headlines and presumably sells newspapers.

However I appeal to you as a responsible employer who needs to motivate a team of professionals and recognises the need to treat success and competence with the same intensity as that required to expose and deal with weaknesses that you will publish one small story of gratitude to our local NHS trust.

A story of care, competence and complete professionalism I received over the past 12 months. Starting in A&E in Weston General Hospital (I was seen within minutes) through many tests, X-rays and scans to surgical procedures and on to total aftercare including my own GP.

At no time throughout the process did I feel anything but a special case (I hasten to add I am not)

Yes I could have speeded matters up through the private route but the skill and abilities of staff at all levels could not have been improved upon and would have been a needless expense.

It must be depressing for all staff to constantly face criticism from a vocal small minority and actually does less to drive improvements in an incredibly complex system than a motivated and enthusiastic team.

Your readers will have all dealt with customer-oriented businesses but very few of these organisations can match the NHS ability to make one feel special and cared about.

DAVID L BATES

Bleadon Mill, Bleadon

I WAS recently an in-patient at Weston General Hospital on Berrow Ward.

The staff were brilliant. From there I was taken to the new build Southmead where once again the staff were brilliant and I would like to say a very big thank you to both hospitals as my treatment was, I consider, first class.

HAZEL ASHBY

Lonsdale Avenue, Bournville

A POINT of clarification following your front page article in last week’s edition of the Mercury.

As the proposal by Weston College to create a multi use games area on part of the Grove Park tennis courts is for recreation, there is no requirement to release the historic restrictive covenant.

The Parochial Church Council of St John’s is fully supportive of the college in its desire to use the site for sport and recreation and that decision was communicated to officers of the diocese back in the summer.

Given that the covenant exists to ensure that the whole of the site continues to be used for recreational purposes, there is no logical reason for the council not having agreed a start date for the college to proceed with the project.

It is certainly not local intransigence that has prevented the games area from already having been established and now in use by students and members of the local community.

RICHARD J TAYLOR

Rector, St John the Baptist Church, Lower Church Road, Weston

AT NEXT week’s executive meeting, there will be a report on the Winter Gardens which recommends a freehold transfer of the building to Weston College.

This recommendation will then go to full council in January for approval.

The intention is that the Winter Gardens will basically operate as is next year, and then will close in part or in full for the alterations to take place, opening again a year or two later.

I am really disappointed that no community consultation on the principle of handing over the building to the college has taken place. I’m not surprised because the council didn’t consult when it privatised the Winter Gardens and Playhouse by handing it over to Parkwood - though that was not for ever.

It keeps saying that there will be consultation on the planning application on the specific refurbishment and extension. That’s all well and good. But I want residents - who after all, own the building - to be given the opportunity to understand what is proposed, how it will work and have their say on that principle. The council seems to be unwilling and, dare I say, afraid to let residents have a say.

The report is also light on specifics in terms of how the Winter Gardens will be run under the college and how community use will be guaranteed. It only says that it welcomes ideas from councillors. Fine, but again, we are being asked to agree to a freehold disposal without any specifics. That is not good enough for me.

It’s not as though it’s all that difficult is it? The council needs to deliver on guarantees for community use including a restrictive covenant which provides for a minimum amount of space, fair community charging policies and a minimum amount of annual time to be allocated for the community. I’d also like to see a management board for the building which would include councillors and community representation to oversee policies and operation and ensure that the interests of the wider community are not forgotten in the charge to educational uses.

Lastly, we have the elephant in the room. Where will big community events like the Food Festival, Your North Somerset and big craft fairs take place after next year? With the best will in the world - and I am not questioning the goodwill of the college here - the space available for events in the Winter Gardens will be much less once all the work is complete. Possibly, we will only see the ballroom as genuinely open plan space.

Is that good enough for a town the size of Weston? The loss of community space at the Winter Gardens is not necessarily a barrier to the refurbishment, but North Somerset Council simply must explain how it is going to help organisers make a continued success of events in the future and where they will take place.

Fairly or otherwise, North Somerset Council does not exactly have a ‘can-do’ reputation when it comes to attracting events or supporting organisers. Where does it leave Weston when it has also disposed of the only substantial town centre conference and events space without a clear plan to make good on the gap?

CLLR MIKE BELL

North Somerset Councillor Weston

Leader, Liberal Democrat Group, North Somerset Council, Town Hall

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