Letters to the Editor, January 29, 2015
PUBLISHED: 12:51 30 January 2015 | UPDATED: 12:53 30 January 2015
AN INDEPENDENT body is being set up to see whether our North Somerset councillors deserve, need, or should otherwise, have a rise in their allowances (salaries).
At present, they cost the council taxpayer £755,000, including national insurance. Add to that figure travel allowances and the total amount averages out at £12,377 per councillor.
The basic back bench councillor’s salary is £8,193 with the rule that they must turn up for a meeting at least once every six months. There is another £6,463 to be had if you are chairman of a committee, under the heading of special responsibility. There is, however, one independent councillor who does not take a penny which is a family tradition that dates back many years. He is proud to serve his community and he considers that to be his reward.
The leader and deputy leader of council receive considerably more. I don’t have a problem with that because they do virtually a full-time job on council and take all the flak.
I only mention this because the election is just four months away and soon those leaflets will be dropping through your doors, mostly colour coded, telling you that your prospective candidate is married, has 2.5 children and lives locally – just to prove they are ‘normal’. You probably won’t get to meet your prospective council candidate on your doorstep, but they will expect you to give them a well-paid, part-time, short-term job and you have no idea whether they are any good at representing you. In a course of months they could be selling off the Winter Gardens for a quid or the Town Hall for 99p (now that would be a good deal).
Possibly party politics should have no place in local government because councillors may have to dance to Westminster’s tune. At the end of the day, they were voted in to represent us locally not at national level which is dealt with in the General Election. However, having said that, 75 per cent of what the council spends does come from Central Government by way of grant which is, of course, funded by the general taxpayer.
While I’m having this rant, why is North Somerset ruining our town with garden sheds on the promenade, flogging our village hall for a quid and making an extra £2million out of us in car parking charges for the benefit of the whole district. Please, stop milking Weston because the Super Old Mare has gone dry!
As a postscript – I must make the point that town councillors do not get paid.
Knight Close, Worle
I HAVE a fairly long list of things that I find disappointing about being involved in politics. One is that good ideas are not judged on their merits, but instead are assessed based on who came up with them.
Another is that too often the mere fact that it is a politician who suggests something automatically attracts derision, scepticism and disbelief.
What has been so exciting about the new campaign to save Birnbeck Pier is that none of this has been present. There is no political axe to grind, just a desire to get things done. There has been little sniping about the past, and instead a determination to unite around building a positive future for the pier.
When I read the Mercury People pages each week or I meet some of those many thousands of people who give up their time to help others or work for a cause, I never fail to be inspired to do better.
The Birnbeck Pier campaign has likewise inspired me. Spontaneously, hundreds of local people have got involved and started to make things happen. This is how all the great successes and achievements take place – a collective sense of frustration and a will to do something about it.
I know that we have all heard many schemes in Weston over the years, including for Birnbeck, but this time I really do think we have a chance. So if you are not already involved, please sign up. You can join the Facebook Group by searching for Save Birnbeck Pier. You can sign the petition to show your support by visiting tinyurl.com/savebirnbeck. Please also join the Friends of the Old Pier Society by visiting www.birnbeck-pier.co.uk
We may not ultimately get anywhere. But our best chance is surely to get behind this campaign, refuse to let politics get in the way and save Birnbeck Pier for not just Weston but the whole nation to enjoy.
CLLR MIKE BELL
George Street, Weston
WE BELIEVE that 2015 will be a very special year for the Lifeboat Service in Weston.
As you will have seen in last week’s Weston Mercury we are applying for planning permission to build a new permanent Lifeboat station at Madeira Cove.
This is also the year, in which we hope to reach our fundraising target of £300,000, contributing towards the cost of these new facilities – our first since 1902.
The response from the public has, so far, been magnificent and hugely encouraging but we still need to keep on course to see us safely home.
We are writing to appeal for continuing generous support from anybody and everybody who would like to raise or donate money to charity in 2015. Please help us, support us, be kind to use – you are our only source of funds.
Our volunteer crew, who regularly put their lives at risk in this, the busiest Lifeboat station on the English side of the Bristol Channel, is surely entitled to nothing less than the best possible facilities from which to operate.
All of us need them to be available 24/7 to continue to protect us, and save lives at sea, as they have done since 1882.
In 2015 your help will count more than ever.
Chairman of fundraising
President of fundraising
WHILST it’s a shame that Birnbeck Pier has fallen into such a dilapidated state but frankly between its current owners and the council it’s never, ever going to be restored to even a fraction of its (barely remembered by what, half of Weston) glory.
As it is the pier is rapidly becoming an eyesore, between that and the various piles of rubble Weston is starting to look like Baghdad. When the pier finally does collapse into the sea do we really want bits of dangerous wreckage washing up on our beaches putting beach users and their animals and children at risk?
Surely the money would be better earmarked for the restoration of the Tropicana or the rebuilding of Dolphin Square, both projects that would help to rejuvenate Weston’s tourist trade and the town centre in general?
Upper Church Road, Weston
AFTER the great £1 giveaway of the Winter Gardens may I suggest the college helps the town with a few more problems.
How about selling the old pier for a further £1 and allow the college to build luxury student flats with sea views.
During the holidays they could be used by North Somerset councillors for summer breaks.
And for a further £1 solve the Tropicana’s problem by again selling to the college who could construct a college sports complex with swimming pool, which could be used by the good people of Weston.
We can only dream.
Worle Court, Worle
LAST week I had the misfortune of attending the full North Somerset Council meeting where the future of the Winter Gardens was discussed at length.
Dr Paul Phillips, the college principal, eloquently explained his desire to expand the college to include a Department of Law Faculty.
All those present agreed that the expansion of the college would be a real asset to Weston. Dr David Agassiz, chairman of the Civic Society agreed with Dr Phillips but questioned the speed that this project was pushed through without any consultation with the public or the full council, and was there a report on alternative sites that were considered.
Cllr Tony Lake then explained that the project had to be rushed through as Local Enterprise partnership (LEP) declared that the £15million funding was only available provided the Winter Gardens handover was complete by April 2015.
Cllr Mike Bell then asked the same question of what other sites were considered. Yet again the answer was avoided. I wonder if any of these were considered.
New build sites: gas works site; rear of station site; Pier hotel site; Dolphin Square.
Conversion sites: police station; law courts; T J Hughes (High Street); four dormant hotels; old library plus extension (Boulevard).
At the final vote an amendment to change the freehold to leasehold was thrown out and the Conservatives all voted to pass the Winter Gardens to the college under a freehold agreement for £1.
When you consider the inclusion of other disused sites in Weston and around North Somerset – Birnbeck Pier, Tropicana, Portishead railway, Grove Park Tennis Courts, closed down public toilets – you then start to appreciate how poorly the present Conservative Executive has performed and not only failed to develop the bomb sites of Weston, but have failed in a number of areas throughout North Somerset.
I was seriously considering standing as a prospective Independent Candidate at the forthcoming May election, but in view of the disgraceful state that the present regime has left North Somerset in general and Weston in particular, in, I have not the desire, enthusiasm, time nor inclination of spending the next 20 years rebuilding Hiroshima.
I therefore intend to withdraw my nomination and concentrate on my retirement and family matters.
I MUST protest at Julian Norris’ comparison of the Winter Gardens saga with Judas’s betrayal of our Lord.
As a Christian, I find it most offensive that Jesus’ name should be taken in vain in such a cheap and tawdry manner.
If this is what we can expect from Somerset First Independents, then they should all be ashamed of themselves.
Milton Road, Weston
WAS it just me or did anyone else notice that only four opposition members (out of a total of 21) actually voted against the Winter Gardens proposals and of those, none attended the Executive meeting on December 9 when the issue was first proposed? These four included only one Labour member and one Independent (from Clevedon!). Even the majority of the Lib Dems failed to follow their leader, although one did sit on her hands. For the unbelievers, the names are clearly listed in the council minutes.
And is it only me who noted that none of the objectors writing in over the last two weeks acknowledged this fact?
The fact is that the majority members in all four parties on North Somerset Council recognise that, since the rebuild of The Grand Pier and its competing facilities for bands and events, refurbishing the iconic and historic original Winter Gardens to ensure continued public use, repairing a leaking ballroom roof and windows for example and covering the future running costs, can only be afforded through the grants coming from the college, with the added bonus of the modern rear being upgraded to provide new higher education opportunities for our youth and the tantalising target of Weston becoming a university town with all the regeneration and kudos that would bring.
What’s not to like?
COUNCILLOR ELFAN AP REES
Town Hall, Weston
I WRITE this letter in reply to all those who think the Winter Gardens was simply sold for £1 and especially Martin Woolls, Lawrence Orme, Robert Craig, John Christopher and Julian Norris.
Firstly, I would like to thank the Mercury for the excellent double page article it had on the sale of the Winter Gardens. However, it is not the whole story and little of the sense made seems to have reached your correspondents who are very ignorant of modern business practice if they believe that literally the Winter Gardens was quite simply sold for £1. This is simply a technical way of exchanging contracts when one party is not putting in cash but an asset of value.
Inevitably, for the college to become a university, it requires a lot of investment, facilities, property and accommodation. Some money could be obtained from Central Government grants which come via The West of England Local Enterprise Board but to do that, funding must be matched by the applicants. That means the Winter Gardens was valued at £11m which attracted considerably higher Government funding.
I hope this short explanation will help your readers to understand that the idea of the Winter Gardens being sold for £1 is a simplistic absurdity.
On the subject of consultation, the Mercury article dealt very adequately with that!
Coronation Road, Bleadon
MANY correspondents have suggested better sites for the college expansion than the Winter Gardens.
My impression is that the college staff would have preferred a different site. Personally, I feel that somewhere adjacent to the railway station, such as the old gas-works site, or perhaps somewhere near to Worle Parkway and the M5, would be better.
It would seem that if the college wanted the £15million on offer, it had no other choice but the Winter Gardens. The impression is that the West of England Local Enterprise Partnership was willing to hand over the £15million without strings, but the caveat, that only the Winter Gardens deal would be acceptable, was insisted on by North Somerset Council; and the site was on offer for £1 as an incentive. Clearly, the college was made an offer that it could not refuse, to quote Don Corleone.
The erstwhile Dolphin Square could be a possibility, as Laurence Orme suggested, but it would have to be done with great care, and buildings designed and built to a high standard. It would need a considered approach. The way in which North Somerset Council’s executive gave us the ‘bum’s rush’ without any public consultation was a disgrace.
The sooner Weston and the surrounding areas separate from North Somerset, and the rump of North Somerset, including Portishead and Clevedon, is absorbed into Greater Bristol, the better.
Priory Road, Weston
SO THE Conservative councillors follow Cllr Nigel Ashton like sheep and there is much anger over the Winter Gardens’ issue.
In the forthcoming elections candidates should use the Winter Gardens as an issue for people to vote in an anti-Conservative way, after all, in Weston ‘Conservative’ is becoming a dirty word. Candidates should talk to each other and agree the best person to challenge a Conservative candidate and ask their supporters to vote for that person.
And in all of this where is our MP? Keeping his head down of course.
So people, vote for Weston and not necessarily your party. It’s time for a change.
Boundary Close, Weston
I HAD to admire Ernie Warrender’s touching naivety in his letter ‘A giveaway’ last week.
In it, he confidently told us that he ‘will campaign for a return of powers and assets back to the people of Weston’. But every local political hopeful says that.
What Mr Warrender notably failed to give us was any indication of how he intends to achieve such a laudable goal. And the fact that he is UKIP’S Prospective Parliamentary Candidate can hardly fill us with any confidence. After all, his party has scarcely been the model of consistency and trust recently.
In just the last week it has told us that the NHS would be better as an independent, insurance-based organisation and then assured us that it was safe in state-run hands. Furthermore, it’s long-standing Asian MEP Amjad Bashir resigned saying that UKIP had become a ‘party of ruthless self-interest’, was ‘pretty amateur’ and had a ‘ridiculous’ lack of policies.
But if that wasn’t enough, Matthew Richardson, a senior party official also assured us that ‘bigots deserve representation’ and called the NHS the ‘biggest waste of money in the UK’.
As Mr Warrender clearly intends to ask us voters to send him to Westminster and represent us under his party banner, perhaps he needs to clarify how UKIP will make a positive difference to us all in Weston. Otherwise, it’s just more empty, meaningless hot air.
Church Road, Winscombe
I THOUGHT I should reassure C Horn who wrote last week, wondering whether the Lib Dems’ new election candidate was having a sly dig at me about being local enough.
I didn’t take his comments that way, partly because he’ll know from my website at www.johnpenrose.org that my father and grandfather worked and were brought up in Somerset, near Midsomer Norton, and partly because I’ve been living here for the last 15 years during which time he’s left Weston to work in London, so it would be a bit silly to try.
It’s very kind of C Horn to worry about my welfare, but I remain hopeful we’ll be able to focus the election campaign on issues that really matter, like how to keep Weston’s recent economic rebirth on track, instead.
JOHN PENROSE MP
Alexandra Parade, Weston
I JUST can’t believe what this town is coming to if that’s what you want to call it.
The council is just destroying more and not just that whenever I want to do my shopping I certainly don’t shop in Weston town centre. All I see is nothing but empty shops.
My daughter wanted to start her own business but when she phoned some of the shops to see how much they wanted for rent in Meadow Street they were charging £1,000 per month just for rent. She said how can I afford that when I have stock to buy then rates, telephone, and accountant? Do these landlords think we are made of money? How are we supposed to start our own business when landlords are asking so much for rates.
No wonder there are so many shops just sitting rotting away.
Why don’t they reduce the rent then people will want to rent.
That was only Meadow Street so I hate to think what they charge in the High Street and in the Sovereign Shopping Centre where it is slowly going down hill just like James Street.
But like I said why should the council care, look at the Tropicana and now Dolphin Square.
Drove Road, Weston
IN RECENT editions of the Weston Mercury there have been reports with regard to the application for a large development of 170 houses at the North End of Yatton in addition to the 150 dwellings already agreed.
It seems that the planners are still considering what can be done to compensate for the problems that will be caused if this development is accepted.
Actually, it does not seem possible for sufficient funds to be made available to pay for a new school to be built to accommodate a further increase in the number of new school age children and a new health centre to replace the Yatton and Congresbury Medical Practice to deal with all the extra patients from 320 homes.
It would also seem to be impossible for the developers or North Somerset Council to pay for a bypass from Yatton (Arnolds Way) to Congresbury to avoid the inevitable build up of traffic in the narrow, congested Yatton High Street.
R V WATHEN
Chescombe Road, Yatton
I DO not object to the provision of beach huts per ser. It is the proposed locating of up to 97 of them on the promenade which amazes and concerns me.
I am not personally convinced that the huts will be a great revenue source for Weston, not once maintenance and policing of use and abuse is addressed – assuming that these issues will be addressed, since if they are not then the huts will become a visual eyesore and a public order nightmare. However, I accept that it is for the council to ensure the cost-effectiveness of their initiatives.
On of the few remaining glories of Weston is the open aspect over the bay, encompassing the sand, occasional sea, the Welsh coast, the pier, and the wonderful sunsets. Come rain or shine, throughout the year many thousands of locals and visitors enjoy the vista. A secondary glory is our promenade, enhanced recently at vast expense well spent to provide a large flat and mostly unhindered space for walkers – amongst whom are those with pushchairs, wheelchairs, walking frames, mobility scooters and guide dogs.
What is proposed for siting of the beach huts on the promenade will be hugely detrimental to those many thousands who currently enjoy the above positive assets of Weston. No more free and easy access for the promenaders, and no more open views for anyone, in particular for those who choose (or need) to park and enjoy the seaside ambience from inside their vehicles. Likewise no more open views for users of the Putting Shed, or for those who like to site their deckchairs and rugs and picnics on a large section of Beach Lawns. Their new view will be of the back of a line of sheds, akin to staring straight at a high fence. Who wants to come to the seaside to do that?
I would suggest that the people inconvenienced, as above, far outnumber the potential beach hut owners and renters. The whole proposal regarding where the beach huts are to be positioned seems to favour the interests of the few over the many, for an uncertain financial gain.
C F JENKINS
Royal Sands, Weston
I THOUGHT your readers, especially those interested in the reduced fare Taxicard scheme I wrote to the Mercury about last October, might be interested in knowing that I was invited to put the Taxicard scheme forward to the Town Council Policy and Finance Committee in December.
I must say I was delighted by the positive response to the proposal from all members, regardless of party allegiance, and want to thank the whole committee and chairman, Cllr Peter Crew, for being prepared to take the scheme forward to the Expenditure and Governance Committee.
A lot of people know that I struggle with Asperger’s and verbal communication is not my strong point, so I was particularly grateful that David Cordingley was able to put the key points of the scheme to the committee on my behalf. I do very much understand the cost constraints the Town Council (and North Somerset) is under these days, but I have worked hard to ensure this scheme is affordable and controllable and, at the same time, will be as fair as possible to many of Weston’s local elderly and disabled folk who, for whatever reason, have difficulty using the bus network. Under the Taxicard scheme they would receive a limited number of taxi fare reductions for journeys within the town.
Many people have helped me so far and I do thank them, especially Mercury readers; Weston & Worle Taxi company; Worlebury Residents’ Association Committee; and Iain Leith, Transport Controller at Dundee City Council, who already uses the scheme successfully.
Bailey Close, Locking Castle
HAVING walked regularly on the beach, going towards Uphill, I see the inconsiderate dog owners regard this beach as a dog’s toilet. Beach Lawns has also become a dog’s toilet.
I see people with dogs, early in the morning walking alongside the wall, thinking no-one can see their dogs going to the toilet.
This is becoming a very serious problem. As the council cannot possibly come up with a solution, perhaps responsible dog owners could volunteer (myself included) to patrol these areas with waste bags and persuade people to clean up behind their dogs. If this is not acceptable, start charging people to use the beach and Beach Lawns with their dogs. Then the monies collected could pay for people to patrol these areas.
Of course, I would rather not have this happen, because the majority of dog owners are responsible people, who clean up after their dogs and leave the beach and Beach Lawns clean, but because of a few lazy, dirty, uncaring individuals, they must be taken to task.
MRS R V COOKSLEY
Severn Avenue, Weston
AS A member of a political party that feels very strongly about Weston and its future I take a keen interest in all the key issues as so admirably highlighted week after week by this newspaper.
However, I suggest, the reality for the majority of council tax-paying members of my local community is that they are equally concerned about much more local issues that are directly relevant to them.
Having lived in Weston Village for 14 years I consider it to be an extremely good residential estate with plenty of open, green spaces. However I feel very concerned at the seeming lack of responsibility being shown by North Somerset Council. It was only about 15 months ago that the area suffered large-scale flooding with many homes being threatened. It required the Environment Agency and the fire brigade to step in at, I would imagine, a quite considerable financial cost.
This was a worrying and distressful time for those residents affected. Nevertheless we now have an ongoing situation where rubbish including supermarket trolleys is being allowed to collect in the many drainage ditches around the estate.
I take the view, which may be shared by many residents, especially those that live near to these ditches, that it is the council’s responsibility to keep these ditches, along with the paths, roads and verges on the estate, free from litter.
Is it unreasonable to expect that some of the council tax we pay should go towards ensuring that our living environment is not blighted by plastic bottles and fast food containers?
With an opportunity in May for change, might they not think that a local person who cares strongly about this and other local issues and who is dogged and determined enough to take the council to task is needed regardless of which party they belong.
UKIP Prospective Candidate Winterstoke Ward
Old Mill Way, Weston
IT IS good that the county council is consulting the public about rights of way, particularly as the council has recently been granted extra money from the Government to use specifically on roads, cycle and footpaths. You have said the public rights of way network is key to enabling residents and visitors alike to access services and enjoy the beauty of the Somerset countryside. To make that a reality however the council needs not only to listen but to act, and experience with the Strawberry Line makes one doubt whether action will ever be forthcoming.
As you know a number of local groups have been asking the council to take action for over a decade since they first agreed to develop an off-road route between Wells and Cheddar, linking into the wider Strawberry Line path. Residents have made their support for such a path clear many times; at public meetings, through local surveys and through letters to the press. The only response each time however has been to ask for more information.
Local people have not only expressed their views but have, with the help of the cycling charity Sustrans, undertaken almost all of the action to date. We organised a feasibility study. We found external funding for an environmental survey; and then an extra survey because the council wanted another one done later in the year; and then a separate tree survey because that was council policy. We found funding for the topographical survey they requested; and then won funding to second a council officer to do all the design work necessary to back a full planning application.
Before submitting the planning application the council asked for a business plan to show how the path could be built and maintained without drawing on council funds. We were able to hire consultants to research and present such a plan which showed that it could be viable without the council spending a penny. But only if they were to give planning permission for the path first.
The final impossible demand from the council was that we should give a cast-iron guarantee that all the money had been found before planning permission had been granted. Clearly no funding body would make such a commitment and for that reason alone progress has stalled.
The danger is that because of this experience many in Mendip will see the current consultation not as a guide to action but a substitute for it. To forestall such a reaction it might help if you could confirm that you still support the principle of the Strawberry Line path and indicate how the council can contribute to bringing it about. Without some assurance of action those reading your consultation may feel that responding is a waste of their time.
Chairman of Steering Group - The Strawberry Line Association
Sandford Road, Winscombe
IN THE last few days, First Bus and North Somerset Council have done away with the 121 bus service. They did so without any consultation with the user groups and without notice to the rural communities that this service has supported for many years. True, the buses were not that punctual or reliable – but were better than nothing.
The parishes of Felton and Winford have now been plunged into the dark ages with huge negative consequences for these communities. It should not be possible for either the council or First Bus to run roughshod over rural communities, especially those near Bristol Airport where huge passenger capacity on services from Bristol and the airport are wasted with enormous public funds squandered because the authorities are too busy playing politics.
Bristol Airport knows it is meant to support communities in its immediate vicinity and yet the very areas that support the airport with a work force, accommodation for staff and tolerate the nuisance levels from the airport’s activities, receive no support and is lucky to get the odd after thought.
It is the choice of many of us to want to live in the country. It is not however acceptable for us to be treated like second class citizens, so that the various authorities mismanage their affairs and in doing so create severe hardship.
Lets have an immediate review of the public transport system and if need be money from the public purse to right a wrong.
Long Cross, Felton
IN THE most recent edition of the Mercury, Ann Fox asked the question ‘I wonder if any other readers have received a reply when contacting the council?’ The answer: no. At election time candidates fawn all over us but ignore us when elected. However Chris Childs is full of praise for Catherine Gibbons who has taken a lot of time sorting out problems, so at least there is one councillor who takes her job seriously. Ken Perrett raises a very interesting point about the council executive or, as they are known, the gang of six. The councillors make all the decisions and woe betide any of the other councillors who contradict them. I was reminded by Ken Lacey that of these six, only one is a Weston councillor which means that the town with the most elected councillors and generates the most revenue to North Somerset is mainly governed by those out of town. Hopefully at the next election the balance will be rectified, but only if more than the normal 25 per cent actually vote.
Annette Overman writes from Florida, of all places, that if a donkey wore a blue ribbon it would be elected, and it is true that many electors will only vote the same party every time. The next election is looming and this time UKIP have thrown their hat into the ring and it will be interesting to see how many votes they get and from which party. I have always believed that people are more important than parties because they are our true representatives and it is worth looking closely at the names on the ballot paper and voting for those who are most likely to represent our interests and not those of the party. All will be revealed in the fullness of time.
Clarence Grove Road, Weston