Letters to the Editor, September 22, 2011

Tropicana

I REFER to the matter of the Tropicana. For some time now I have followed the articles and letters in the Mercury on this topic.

During this time I have observed: a council seeking a solution that did not involve costs to the local council taxpayers; interested commercial enterprises looking to achieve a decent return on their investment; vocal local inhabitants very happy to give their opinions; and the Mercury publicising the issues.

Inevitably this has led to failure with much negativity in evidence – not surprising when one considers the economic reality of current times.

However the Michaels (of Grand Pier fame) have demonstrated that ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’, albeit in this case as a commercial venture. But there are many examples of charities that operate with these principles with great success.


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May I suggest that a charitable trust be set up with the aim of providing and maintaining, at minimal cost, a swimming pool with a retractable roof.

This would be achieved by having: trustees representative of all skills required for this project to succeed both initially and ongoing; benefactors from the region, at all levels, who are prepared to donate funds, expertise, work forces, use of equipment etc; Mobilisation of groups, associations, clubs, schools, colleges, churches, pubs, etc, in fundraising support; and support of the media in publicising ‘good news’.

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One would expect that ownership of the Tropicana would in due course be transferred to the charity.

Obviously the start point is to form a small working party able to establish: the current state of the Tropicana swimming pool and associated building; the design and plan for the new pool taking into account technologies such as solar power; and indicative minimal funds needed and projected key dates.

All ages can be involved in this eco-community venture ‘by the people for the people’, as a thriving Tropicana would be beneficial both to the residents and businesses of North Somerset and would stand as a living example of what can be achieved by the positive united efforts of the residents. Are the people of North Somerset prepared to take up this challenge?

BEN DIMOND

Knapps Close, Winscombe

Begins listening

IF CLLR Ashton thinks the residents of Weston do not regard the pool as a priority (Mercury September 15) I would suggest he begins listening to the residents.

In all the years during which I have spoken to hundreds of residents, not once have I been told that a pool is not required.

There are none so blind as those who do not want to see.

MR T W HAYES

Mead Vale, Weston

Have in reserve

I NOTE that our esteemed leader Squire Ashton of Castlewood refuses to believe that the majority of Westonians want a pool in the Tropicana.

This is on a par with those councillors who refused to accept that the sea wall became lower if the pavement was made higher. It is also on a par with maintaining a belief that spending more money than you actually have in reserve on fanciful and untested plans designed to ‘save money in the end’ (fingers crossed) is an intelligent idea.

Actually it follows an old Somerset belief that if you bury a gold coin and water it your money will grow thanks to the fairies.

Of course I could be quite wrong about this, and when the fairies have put the magic glitter into our new town hall it may be that the sun will shine and all the locals gaze in wonder whilst counting their unexpected profits. Then again, perhaps not.

BRIAN AUSTIN

Alma Street, Weston

Part of estate life

IF A cafe in Weston town centre were to close you would probably heave a sigh of relief - there being so many of them.

When the management team of the Healthy Living Centre caf�, on the Bournville, announced the closure of both the cafe and lunch club, it had quite the opposite effect!

Parkside Cafe serves good value meals and snacks five days a week and is responsible for the very valued lunch club that runs Tuesday to Friday.

The lunch club has been part of estate life for more than 30 years and is where the many elderly and disabled members of the community meet for both their meals and social activities such as bingo and social interaction.

The cafe has a completely different clientele, consisting of parents with children, patients visiting the doctors’ surgery, the general public attending the many groups that operate from the centre, with an influx of local traders using a take out service.

Parkside Cafe is the only facility on the estate and has become a regular meeting place for the community, benefiting the residents in very many ways.

Despite holding two open meetings to ‘decide the future of the caf�’ the chief executive Mark Graham and the financial controller Fraser Black did little to assure those present that the plans they have are little more than a fudge.

There are no plans for how the cafe will be, no finances in place to allow any work to continue and a laughable time scale of six months in which they expect to re-open the cafe.

Many requests were made for the closure to be delayed until proper consultation has taken place, with plans, costings and time scales in place.

The problem has not been helped by the Healthy Living Centre board members allowing the closure decision to be taken with them effectively being excluded.

The community cafe has had a big impact on the lives of the very many users. With so few amenities on the estate it is criminal that so little consideration has been given to the residents that the centre is here to serve.

The management team has behaved like a pair of control freaks and the board members like herded sheep. The community deserves much better than this.

What is ironic is that the cafe was rescued from The South Ward Community Association two years ago.

The centre’s financial controller did admit that they make a loss of up to �3.50 a meal on food sold to lunch club members and that he still intended to subsidise the temporary solution they are running with microwave meals. Samples of the proposed meals have already been tried by a few members with disapproving responses.

Lunch club members are not stupid, they want what has been there for them for the last 30 years. I am sure that if they realised the meals were so heavily subsidised, they would agree to pay a fair price for their food in order to continue the group.

They had always paid a membership fee to belong to the club until the Healthy Living Centre had taken over.

Now, two years later the financial controller is bringing the fee back.

I would welcome the help of our local MP John Penrose in trying to achieve a reprise - at least until the cafe’s future can be properly decided.

NIGEL LINDORES AND TELEMIECUS JONES

Grasmere Drive, Weston

Surgery

I AM writing in response to Mr and Mrs Pockett’s letter in last week’s Mercury criticising statements in the article ‘Doctors’ surgery merger goes before planners’.

My remarks in the article were summarised and were made on behalf of Wrington residents as I made clear to the reporter. To clarify – some residents would certainly benefit from extra services at a large surgery in Langford, but far more would be disadvantaged by having to travel further to see a doctor or nurse for routine matters.

Yes, it is true that the Primary Care Trust agreed to a single surgery for the practice, with a small branch facility in Wrington, but the PCT recognised that planning permission for the Pudding Pie Lane site could not be guaranteed.

Among planning issues which North Somerset Council will consider are access to the proposed surgery, the effect on Wrington of closing its existing surgery as well as the principle of building outside Churchill’s village fence on a green field site.

DEBORAH YAMANAKA

North Somerset Councillor Wrington,

School Road, Wrington

Consultation

I DESPAIR at how our council seems to decide, without consultation with the population, what ‘we think we want’.

What they think we need without experience in the real world of tourism or provision of services.

They are too ready to go into consultation with outside agencies who work on facts and figures from graduate studies and charge a fortune that will again come from the council’s ever-dwindling and overstretched coffers.

Why do they not take free advice from our local business people? Kerry Michael has voiced his opinion that our tourism office seems to have failed in the task of bringing in the crowds and customers for the summer season.

I agree with this opinion. While our local businesses required a substantial increase in British holidaymakers opting for a ‘stay in the UK holiday’ it seemed only the day visitor was truly evident, presumably to have a look at the now famous Grand Pier, but gone by 6pm, and why? Because there has been little development of attractions to compete with other resorts and a flight to the Costa.

Let’s get away from the idea consultants with no experience on the ground are going to make things work, consult your local business people who work hard to provide for their families and employees and ultimately pay the wages of all council staff.

They have a full stake in making things work in and around Weston.

I again reiterate, sell the Tropicana for a pound to one of our entrepreneurs who will save on the cost of another consultation or the demolition.

PAUL BURNS

Sunnyside Road, Weston

Impact

I AM writing on behalf of North Somerset Unison, which represents workers at North Somerset Council.

Last week the council put its budget proposals for the next three financial years out to consultation.

I would urge every single resident of North Somerset to respond to that consultation by phoning, writing or arranging to see their councillor and then telling them what the impact will be on them.

The council plan to make �50million of cuts or a third of their budget for services, with �17.5million of cuts already beginning to be made in the current financial year.

It is just not possible to take this much money out of services without it having a serious impact, because the council plan to make massive cuts to services for the elderly, disabled, children and young people.

In a study commissioned by Scope – a leading disability charity – North Somerset were ranked 145 out of 152 councils in the UK in terms of the severity of cuts to services for disabled people.

The council may also want to bear in mind that earlier this year a number of disabled service users took Birmingham City Council to the high court over their cuts and won their case.

North Somerset Unison have advised the council on a number of occasions that they may be at risk of legal action because of some of their cuts proposals.

North Somerset Council tell us that it has no choice but to make these cuts, because central Government has reduced its funding. But the ruling party in North Somerset is also the ruling party at Westminster, and the council has also made some poor decisions in the past. For instance we have consistently opposed the council’s privatisation agenda, particularly the �10million-per-year 10-year contract for support services which it signed just a couple of months before the Tory-led Government announced its austerity measures.

This and other contracts have effectively put large parts of their budget outside the control of councillors and as a result other services are now facing larger cuts. We have also consistently opposed their decision to buy the Castlewood offices in Clevedon at a cost of �14million, and to refurbish the town hall at a cost of almost �10million – this money would have been better used for services, and certainly council workers would rather keep services and jobs than have a flashy new office.

It seems that a number of Weston Mercury readers agree with me.

It does seem peculiar that the council is prioritising buildings over services at such a time, and no matter how many times the council claims the new buildings will make savings in the long term it really is now that it needs the money to provide services to our most vulnerable citizens.

But the council makes it very clear that it intends to provide less services directly. Instead it will simply not provide some services at all, it will privatise services or they will ask local communities to run services themselves. For instance, it looks likely that many of our rural libraries will close unless members of the community are prepared to volunteer to run them. The council leader often claims that Congresbury library is run by volunteers – but this is not entirely true – there is a paid member of staff working at Congresbury library who supervises the volunteers, and we would argue that without that paid member of staff there would be no library service in Congresbury.

The so-called ‘Big Society’ is one of a number of elements of the Tory-led Government’s vision for the UK which is taking us back in time to Victorian Britain where ordinary people had to rely on the philanthropy of the wealthy, and church and charitable organisations for their services.

As a trade union we are, of course concerned that over the four years of cuts the council will lose 280 full-time jobs – and because the majority of council employees are women, and many work part-time, this probably means that between 400 and 500 people will lose their jobs.

This cut in jobs equates to 25 per cent of the council’s non-schools workforce. In addition the council is planning to cut the wages of some of its lowest paid staff, including home care workers, the majority of whom again are women.

This is on top of the three-year pay freeze that has been imposed on all council staff. The council is North Somerset’s largest employer and the loss of jobs is already having knock-on effects for the local economy. All you have to do is walk down Weston High Street to see the shops closing, and also the type of shops that are taking their place.

Public sector trade union members, including Unison members, throughout North Somerset will soon be balloted on whether or not to take industrial action on November 30 over the pensions dispute.

I would like to make it clear to your readers that despite the Government and media reports, public sector pension schemes are affordable and sustainable. It is simply the case that the Government want to take money out of our pension schemes to pay off the deficit – it is effectively a tax on public sector workers

The Government has not been negotiating in good faith with the trade unions and as a result our last resort may have to be industrial action. But I also want to make it clear that during industrial action, trade unions make agreements with employers over emergency cover. We are not heartless – we are public sector workers because we care about the people we serve.

Our campaign is not just about our own pensions – it’s about decent pensions for everyone, and it’s also about protecting jobs and services.

On November 30 we hope that millions of public sector workers taking industrial action will send a clear signal to the Government that ordinary working people will no longer pay the price of cuts to jobs, services and pensions – a price which should instead be paid by those that caused the financial crisis.

HELEN THORNTON

Branch secretary North Somerset Unison, Town Hall, Weston

Reduced

AS WE all know councils around the country are planning cuts to the local services in this, and the area they represent.

This tax was defined as: “Council tax is the system of local taxation used in England, Scotland and Wales to part fund the services provided by local government in each country”.

If the planned cuts to services go ahead, logic must dictate that our payments must be reduced accordingly, for the loss of those services.

I would be interested to know which of our councillors would be willing to pay for any service they don’t receive.

LINDSAY SMITH

South Road, Weston

Many services

THANK you so much for featuring the news about our recent outstanding OFSTED inspection (September 8).

It was great to see our hard work and the wonderful support we have received being featured in your paper.

I wanted to clarify, however, that Avalon provides short breaks to disabled children who usually live at home with parents who are working hard to give their children the love and support that all children need.

We would not want to give your readers the impression that the children attending Avalon come to us because they are being neglected.

Action for Children provides many services across the UK for a range of children, young people and their families, including those which help vulnerable and neglected children.

Having a disabled child brings many extra pressures and we work to support families by providing their children with an enjoyable time away from home and enabling their parents to have a break knowing their children are being well looked after.

DERMOT MCCANN

Disability service manager, Avalon, Derham Park, Yatton

WE WERE interested to read your report about fears over a new reservoir at Cheddar, but would like to make a few points in response.

It would not be our second reservoir in Somerset, aside from the existing one at Cheddar, we already have reservoirs at Barrow, Chew and Blagdon; all in Somerset.

We are currently assessing the geological suitability of five potential sites: Axbridge; Cheddar; Banwell; Clewer and Wookey. Nobody, as far as I am aware, has complained about potential disruption to their businesses from the Cheddar site, though there has been some concern expressed at Axbridge.

It is nonsense to suggest that JCBs and diggers would have to go through the narrow streets of ancient Axbridge. If, and it is only if, the Axbridge site was chosen for a planning application, the conditions would inevitably include a new, separate access for construction traffic.

We are at a loss to understand MP Tessa Munt’s comments and will contact her again to clarify any concerns she may have.

Whatever Somerset site is chosen will mean work in the Cheddar Gorge because that is the source of the water for any of the reservoir sites.

However, we want to emphasise that nothing has been decided and debates about detail are pretty pointless at this stage.

JEREMY WILLIAMS

Bristol Water plc, Bridgwater Road, Bristol

REGARDING the proposed second reservoir at Cheddar we wonder why Bristol Water keeps insisting that all of us in Axbridge have always known this was going to be built?

We have lived here for 12 years and the first we and many other residents, young and old, heard of it was a couple of years ago when it hit the papers. Also, after reading the Bristol Water Resource Plan (page 112) I found that when the reservoir was built, in the 1930s, a decision was made not to store water but to pump it to Barrow and so it was finally constructed at half of the original design size – so there was never going to be two reservoirs.

MOIRA GLASS

Moorland Street, Axbridge

KERRY Michael, the owner of Weston’s Grand Pier, has directed a broadside against North Somerset Council for their lack of investment in tourism.

Kerry is a true Westonian who, like many others in the town, has a passion for its future and he is a man who has put his money where his mouth is and has proved that actions speak louder than words.

On the other hand the council is not Weston orientated because there is a large inbalance between Weston councillors and those from the rest of North Somerset.

Of the 61 councillors only 23 represent the town and on the executive, that actually runs the council, only one ploughs a lone furrow along Weston’s beach.

Weston is by far the largest town in the district and because of its holiday drawing power provides the most finance yet its representation on the council is pathetic.

There is a town council but it is toothless and has no power.

To illustrate this point the town council wanted to be represented on the Tropicana working party but was refused.

How can tourism be promoted when most district councillors have no interest in the town?

North Somerset is currently looking at ways to reduce expenditure by cutting the number of councillors so does this mean that the inbalance will be corrected?

It is not a party divide because whatever party is in power it is Weston against the rest.

Kerry is correct in his criticism but his words will fall on deaf ears until Westonians have a fairer say in their own future.

GEOFF MALHAM

Clarence Grove Road, Weston

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