Upper Tone voted for Dave & Gwil

The result for Upper Tone in the election on 5 May 2022 to Somerset County Council (one year) and to the new Somerset Council (from 2023) was:

Dave Mansell – Green (1,687 – 50%) – ELECTED

Gwil Wren – Independent (1,487 – 44%) – ELECTED

Roger Habgood – Conservative (1,158 – 34%)

James Hunt – Conservative (1,082 – 32%)

John Hassell – Liberal Democrat (641 – 19%)

Mike McGuffie – Labour (267 – 8%)

Philip Thorne – Independent (137 – 4%)

The total electorate was 7,625, who could vote to support two candidates, although some only cast one of their two votes. The turnout for Upper Tone was 44.6%, which was above the overall turnout in Somerset of 37%.

Thanks for all the help and support given. Gwil and I will do our best as representatives for Upper Tone on the new council. I also look forward to working with four other Greens elected in Frome and with other councillors from around the county.

Along with Mark Blaker, I will continue for to be a district councillor for the Wiveliscombe and District ward on Somerset West and Taunton Council until April 2023. Then Gwil and I will continue as the unitary councillors for Upper Tone on the new Somerset Council that replaces the districts and county council.

The overall result for the new county council is:

Liberal Democrat – 61

Conservative – 36

Green Party – 5

Labour – 5

Independent – 3

Full results at Somerset County Council website.

Parishes in the Upper Tone division are shown below.

Council achievements

Over my four years as a district councillor, I have done my best to represent Wiveliscombe and neighbouring parishes in my ward, to work with others and to be a positive Green voice on the Council.

Since 2018, I have helped with hundreds of local issues. I have spoken up at council meetings, read many reports and voted on their recommendations, sometimes proposing amendments. I have also sat on a number of working groups and delivery panels, and had monthly briefings on local climate change and ecological projects as the shadow portfolio holder.

The following are some highlights that have resulted from contributions I have made, often working with others.

WIVELISCOMBE AREA

  • Provided information on Covid support in the ward.
  • Installed the first public charging point for electric vehicles in Wiveliscombe, working with the Community Centre, Town Council and Brendon Energy. More council points have followed throughout the district, including in North Street car park.
  • Given support for funding to Wiveliscombe Community Centre, Town Hall Trust, Wiveliscombe Area Partnership, Wivey Pool, a new skate park at the Recreation Ground and to village halls.
  • Sought better progress on the local roll-out of full-fibre broadband and reported on new plans. I have met with Gigaclear, Connecting Devon and Somerset, and Airband, and organised a joint meeting for parish councils with Technological.
  • Sought improvements to town centre weeding and street cleaning, as well as to open spaces in car parks, which has included over-growth being cut back and more growing of wild flowers.
  • With a local steering group, supported town recovery projects with funding from Somerset West and Taunton Council. In particular, I helped arrange the painting of street furniture in The Square, updating of direction signs in Croft Way car park, and the cleaning of signs and removal of graffiti along the road into Wiveliscombe.
  • Proposed and chaired the place-making project group, which has organised consultation and is finalising a plan to improve The Square and traffic management in Wiveliscombe town centre – see update.

SOMERSET WEST AND TAUNTON COUNCIL

  • Proposed motions to declare climate and ecological emergencies, which have led to many new council policies and projects.
  • Proposed a budget amendment which led to more funding for climate and ecological projects.
  • Contributed to working groups on the Somerset climate emergency strategy and district action plans, which have been rated the best in the UK.
  • Challenged the council’s commercial investment strategy being debated in confidential sessions, which led to public debates and investment details being published on the council website.
  • Proposed and chaired a working group on retrofitting the council’s housing stock with insulation and zero carbon heating systems. Our report was passed by Scrutiny Committee and is currently proceeding on the democratic pathway to the Executive.
  • As a member of Somerset Waste Board, supported the successful roll-out of Recycle More and called for more re-use projects, which are to launched in the coming year.
  • Selected as vice-chair of Community Scrutiny Committee and so involved in scrutiny agenda setting and chairing some meetings.
  • At full council and committee meetings, I have voted to support many new projects and council initiatives, including: new development plans for the Firepool site in Taunton; the building of new council housing to a zero carbon design; accommodation and support for rough sleepers; pedestrianisation of East Street in Taunton; planning for new safe cycle routes; and many more.

Help Ukraine

The war in Ukraine is heart-breaking. The brave resistance has to be admired. All the people affected need help and support.

The following are some links for information and how to assist:

UPDATED: 1 July 2022, 9 August 2022

Incinerator proposed at Greenham

Wasteology are applying for a low-level clinical waste incinerator at Greenham Quarry, near the A38, where they have existing waste operations. At this stage, the application is only on what to cover in an environmental assessment for the facility. This would be required for a future application for the plant itself, which has not yet been submitted, although there are details of what is proposed in the current application. Continue reading “Incinerator proposed at Greenham”

Help with heating and household bills

Click on links below for advice on saving energy and assistance with heating and other household bills.

Government payments

Somerset Household Support Fund – £3.8m to assist Somerset residents struggling to afford household bills and essentials, which is due to be distributed by September 2022. Also see Somerset West and Taunton Council’s Hardship Fund in next section below.

Other government help includes:

  • an automatic ‘Energy Price Guarantee‘ so that a typical UK household will pay no more than £2,500 a year on their energy bill for two years from 1 October 2022;
  • 0% VAT on energy saving materials, such as thermal insulation and solar panels;
  • a £650 one-off Cost of Living Payment for households on means tested benefits (some first payments were made in July, more follow in September);
  • a £300 one-off Pensioner Cost of Living Payment to be paid alongside the Winter Fuel Payment;
  • a £150 one-off Disability Cost of Living Payment for people who receive certain disability benefits.

Energy Bills Support Scheme – £400 in non-repayable discounts on energy bills is to be provided this winter. This will be administered by energy suppliers and paid to consumers automatically over 6 months from October 2022. Traditional prepayment meter customers will be provided with discount vouchers in the first week of each month, issued via SMS text, email or post.

Council Tax Energy Rebate – Most households should have received this rebate automatically and the deadline to claim has now passed. The government provided a £150 non-repayable Council Tax rebate payment for households liable for Council Tax in Bands A-D, and a small discretionary fund administered by local authorities for others needing support but not eligible for the Council Tax rebate. See local information.

Winter fuel payments – Paid to those aged 65 or over and getting the State Pension or another social security benefit.

Warm Home Discount – Electricity bill discount that can be claimed by those on certain benefits.

Cold Weather Payments – An extra payment of £25 per week to eligible people if the average temperature drops below zero for seven days in a row.

Other advice and support

Hardship Fund – Somerset West and Taunton Council has a short-term Hardship Fund for low-income families struggling to afford household essentials.

Additional household support for Somerset residents – Includes help with food, information and advice, help with childcare, and help with bills.

Citizens Advice Somerset – emergency support.

Council debt advice – Help if you are struggling to pay bills.

Saving electricity at home – Good helpful tips on saving both energy and money from Good Energy.

FurniTrust – Pre-used furniture and household items at low prices for people in need. Delivery available. Donations welcome of unwanted furniture and white goods in good condition. Shop at 37-39 Bridge Street, Taunton.

Money Saving Expert – What to do if you’re struggling to pay your energy bills.

Saving energy and insulation

Safe and Warm Somerset – A range of advice and support with reducing energy bills and keeping warm at home.

Somerset Retrofit Accelerator Project – Discounted Home Retrofit Plans are available to 50 households in Somerset, starting from £50 for an introductory guide and from £100 for a detailed survey and report. Plans will be based on needs, aspirations and budget. Apply to Futureproof.

Somerset Independence Plus – Home improvements for disabled and vulnerable people, including repairs and improvements and retrofit grants and loans for energy efficiency improvements.

Lendology energy efficiency loans – A social enterprise working with Somerset West and Taunton and other councils. Lendology can provide finance for all homeowners, including those who may be excluded from mainstream providers.

Somerset West and Taunton Council – Saving energy advice and support, including for tenants and on getting an Energy Performance Certificate.

Centre for Sustainable Energy – A wide range of impartial home energy advice. Also see my advice on home energy improvements.

Simple Energy Advice – Government endorsed website.

Smart meters – Free smart meters are helpful in allowing you to see how much energy you are using, what it costs and which appliances, when turned on, add most to your energy use.

The Green Party wishes to see a lot more done to address fuel poverty and to assist all to have well insulated homes with zero carbon heating. More support has been provided since the first version of this post in December 2021, but more is still needed, especially for insulation and zero carbon heating to keep homes warm at low cost.

Green PartyCost of living crisis is actually an income crisis and inequality scandal

ORIGINAL  POST: 5 Dec 2021 – UPDATED: 5 Feb 2022, 1 July 2022, 22 July 2022, 30 July 2022, 3 Sept 2022, 8 Sept 2022

REVIEW: 2020 and into 2021

The last year has been unprecedented in modern times. Extraordinary for us all due to Covid and at the council for many reasons. The future for Somerset promises more changes and disruption on the way. As ever, I try to keep focused on doing the best for Wivey and our area and on encouraging steps towards a safer and fairer green future.

Later than previously, this is my annual review of the last year as a district councillor and thoughts on what the next year may bring. Continue reading “REVIEW: 2020 and into 2021”

One Somerset is unitary answer

Yesterday, the Local Government Secretary announced a single new unitary council will be established in Somerset. This is the One Somerset model promoted by Somerset County Council.

Consultation has been underway since last autumn. The change comes during a pandemic and only two years after two district councils were merged to form Somerset West and Taunton Council. That change was disruptive and wasted millions. Now we are faced with another disruptive reorganisation.

Both changes have been proposed by the Conservatives. It’s unbelievable that they could make one major change to be followed so soon by another.

Continue reading “One Somerset is unitary answer”

Green action in Wivey

In recent months, there have been a number of local green projects, with a new electric vehicle charging point installed at the top of Croft Way car park and lots of tree planting.

Click on the following links for further information:

I led and worked on the new charging point throughout, which started as a Wivey Action on Climate project a few years ago. We had a number of obstacles to overcome and had to adjust our plans several times, so it is very pleasing that we eventually got it installed. The point has been well used from the start and use continues to grow. By the end of 2021, it was used most days and often several times a day.

I provided support for the wildlife-friendly planting in Croft Way car park, with backing gained from the Council’s open spaces section.

In the past I have been involved in organising local tree planting.

More green projects will follow, as £18,000 has been awarded from the County Council’s Climate Emergency Community Fund to install solar panels at Wivey Pool and on our public toilets and to provide loft insulation at the Town Hall.

UPDATE (14 Sept 2021): Wivey Pool now has a set of photovoltaic solar panels at the back. This is a particularly good installation as the pool uses high power pumps, which can now be solar powered when needed most during the summer. I advised on installers for this project and am pleased it has come together so well.

Wivey Pool solar panels wide

Rural broadband progress

Broadband options for parishes around Wiveliscombe have progressed a little since my previous posts.

It remains best to register your interest with a number of potential providers, with some looking more likely to offer a service in some parishes, as detailed below. There is also a new broadband universal service obligation, provided by BT, which may offer a connection opportunity for some.

Register and find out about services offered at:
• Technological – www.technological.co.uk/ex16
• BT broadband universal service – www.bt.com/broadband/USO
• Gigaclear – www.gigaclear.com (start by entering postcode)
• Openreach – www.openreach.com/fibre-broadband/community-fibre-partnerships

The following outlines local progress made by these providers and by Connecting Devon and Somerset.   Continue reading “Rural broadband progress”

A Green Climate Strategy

Somerset Green Party Councillors have produced A Green Climate Strategy to show how we propose to address the climate and ecological emergencies in Somerset.

Our Green strategy shows how to improve a joint climate strategy prepared by Somerset councils, which is too weak and lacks urgency. The joint Somerset strategy (see full version and summary) fails to show what will be needed to work towards carbon neutrality or how to work effectively towards this by 2030. The joint councils strategy also passes too much responsibility for achieving change to communities and individuals.

Action should have started earlier, following council climate emergency declarations in 2019. More needs to follow once actions plans are adopted by Somerset councils in October and November 2020.

A Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience Action Plan for Somerset West and Taunton (SWT) could be improved, but is much better than the Somerset Strategy, and should allow a better start to effective climate action in our district.   Continue reading “A Green Climate Strategy”

Somerset West & Taunton declares an ecological emergency

Last night (29th September 2020), Somerset West and Taunton Council unanimously declared an ecological emergency, supporting a motion I proposed with Councillor Dixie Darch. See full motion and a webcast of the debate (starts after 1 hr 26 mins 20 secs).

The motion recognised that the human and natural worlds are intertwined. We rely on nature for air, water, food, medicines, raw materials and energy. But we are over-exploiting natural resources, leading to species extinction rates which are now tens to hundreds of times higher than historical averages. As David Attenborough has said: “We’ve overrun the planet”. Continue reading “Somerset West & Taunton declares an ecological emergency”

The unitary question

There are two proposals to reorganise local government in Somerset by combining county and district councils. The county council favours one single authority covering the whole of Somerset. All four district authorities have confirmed they favour two unitary authorites, one for the West (covering Sedgemoor and Somerset West and Taunton) and one for the East (covering Mendip and South Somerset).

This has been prompted by Somerset County Council calling for a new unitary authority and then the Government announcing that a white paper on devolution and local recovery will be published this autumn. Council meetings with a Minister have suggested Somerset will be in the first wave of new unitary authorities to be created, with public consultation this autumn and a decision early in the new year (see update on timing at end below).

Personally, I favour unitary authorities, as they have the potential to be more efficient and allow the joint planning and delivery of services currently split across the two tiers, such as highways and planning and car parks, on-street parking and transport.

However, I think the timing is terrible, given the on-going need to address the COVID pandemic and climate change, as well as due to Somerset West and Taunton having only just been reorganised.

I would also prefer unitary authorities on current district boundaries, with collaboration on services requiring management and delivery at a larger scale, possibly along the successful lines of Somerset Waste Partnership. The Government has indicated the size of four unitary councils for Somerset would be too small and so the maximum number possible would be two.

As a single Somerset authority, covering a large rural area from Simonsbath to Frome and Brean to Chard, would be too big and remote, I favour the Stronger Somerset case for two new unitary councils in Somerset (East and West).

Continue reading “The unitary question”

Shooting lodge approved but helipad removed

In late 2019 and early 2020, the peace of Wiveliscombe was disturbed by helicopters flying low over the Southern part of town to a new shooting lodge built off the the main road to Waterrow and close to Culverhay, Culverhead and the Recreation Ground.

Planning approval for Bulland Estate to convert a barn to a shooting facility had been given in February 2019, but the application had made no mention of the helipad or the luxury accommodation rumoured to have been included in the conversion.

During 2019, I received complaints and expressions of concern about the new development, which I raised with Somerset West and Taunton Council. Planning enforcement action soon followed.

The barn conversion built was found to include a whole additional floor of bedrooms as well as the helipad, which had not been included in the original planning application.   Continue reading “Shooting lodge approved but helipad removed”

Controversy over Kingsmead School new buildings

Earlier this year (January 2020), there was consultation, followed by a planning application for substantial new buildings at Kingsmead School. These will replace old buildings that are no longer fit for purpose, with funding from the Government’s Priority School Building Programme.

The new buildings are very welcome and much needed, but the proposal proved controversial as the design lacked sustainability features and was not carbon neutral. This prompted a local campaign, which was covered by The Guardian.    Continue reading “Controversy over Kingsmead School new buildings”

Sandys Moor – approved plans for 94 new homes

A planning application was submitted in March 2020 for the detailed design of access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale of 94 new homes at Sandys Moor, Wiveliscombe.

Outline planning permission had previously been controversially given in March 2019.

The detailed application (number 49/20/0016) can be viewed on the planning application search page of Somerset West and Taunton Council’s website. The main document to view is the Statement of Compliance with the planning layout images (as shown above) giving a quick indication of what is proposed.

UPDATE (5 August 2020): This application has been approved and planning permission given. See my comments on the plans.

UPDATE (16 Nov 2020): A number of trees have been felled on the Sandys Moor site, which appear to be in keeping with approved plans that I have checked with the Council’s Tree Officer. Trees to be retained and those to be removed are shown in extracts from the landscape strategy and arboricultural statement. In addition, all poplars on site are being felled, as they are not thought suitable alongside new buildings. They will be replaced with other species as part of the landscape scheme. Further details are shown in the Landscape Strategy Plan and Arboricultural Method Statement.

UPDATE (18 May 2021): A new planning application (49/21/0025) has been submitted for 19 dwellings on the Sandys Moor site. 13 of the new houses proposed are changes and 6 are additional. If approved and this proceeds, it will bring the total number of houses to 100.

UPDATE (December 2021) – The new houses at what is now called Elworthy Place are under construction and the first will soon be ready for occupation. The new residents are welcomed and it is hoped they will be happy in their new homes. I pressed for better pedestrian access to the town centre and schools, but only an improvement along Church Street to Kingsmead School was agreed. Unfortunately, this will lead to a loss of parking bays and only improve walking access to Kingsmead School. In my view, a pedestrian crossing for Church Street or Taunton Road is needed. Infrastructure funding will be available for play equipment, which may be used at the Recreation Ground to provide a new skate park and maybe an all-weather games area, both of which are still to be confirmed. There should also be some funding for more schools places and for other improvements in the town, which are also still to be confirmed and will involve the town council. It seems unlikely the additional houses proposed will be built (see update in May 2021 above), due to planning applications for new housing being delayed, as a result of phosphate pollution in the water catchment area feeding into protected sites on the Somerset levels and moors.

Coronavirus guidance and vaccinations

The government has removed domestic restrictions, but still suggest the following to reduce the risk of catching and spreading COVID-19:

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Let fresh air in if you meet indoors, or meet outside.
  • Consider wearing a face covering in crowded, enclosed spaces.

The NHS have published 11 tips to cope with anxiety about getting “back to normal”.

See government guidance on living safely with respiratory infections, including COVID-19.

The BBC continue to update a helpful summary of COVID-19 guidance and measures.

Communities in the Wiveliscombe and 10 Parishes area have done a great job in helping people stay safe. Please continue to look after yourselves and others too.

Government: Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance and support, including staying safe, testing and staying at home, international travel, long COVID, work, self-employment and business support.

Somerset Coronavirus Support Helpline – closed on 31 March 2022.

Somerset NHSCovid-19 vaccinations in Somerset

NHS advice about Coronavirus (COVID-19), including symptoms, testing, vaccination, self-care and treatments, people at higher risk, how to avoid catching and spreading COVID-19, and long-term effects.

Mindline Somerset – Coronavirus emotional support helpline available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week from Mind in Somerset on 01823 276 892

Somerset West and Taunton Council advice online advice and support:  www.somersetwestandtaunton.gov.uk/coronavirus

Somerset Waste Partnership on disposing of waste for anyone with symptoms of coronavirus: www.somersetwaste.gov.uk/coronavirus

Somerset County Council: Latest Coronavirus updates

BBC website is good for answering questions and providing the latest news: www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers

UPDATED 2 April 2022

I will continue to update this list with important and reliable sources of advice. Please contact me if you need any additional help and I will do my best to assist.

Council tax, budgets and an amendment

The following post summarises key points from budgets set by Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT), Somerset County Council and other local authorities, including how much Council Tax we will pay to each. The fate of a budget amendment I proposed for energy and climate protection projects is also covered.       Continue reading “Council tax, budgets and an amendment”

REVIEW: 2019 and into 2020

The following is a look back on 2019 as district councillor for the Wiveliscombe and District ward and a look forward on what may be to come in 2020.

Last May, I was pleased to be re-elected as one of the two district councillors for our ward, alongside Mark Blaker. My aims, then and now, are to represent the best interests of our ward, to help people with local issues, and to be a green voice on the council. Continue reading “REVIEW: 2019 and into 2020”