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”.

UK Biodiversity Declining
Click to view full infographic

The Council should now extend existing good work on nature restoration and prepare an action plan that:

  • Seeks to maximise opportunities from addressing both the climate and the ecological emergencies together.
  • Embeds climate action and ecological initiatives within all council work areas, including COVID recovery.
  • Promotes woodland planting, peatland restoration, natural flood management, rewilding, and habitat creation and restoration.
  • Continues efforts to recycle waste and use resources efficiently and do more to save energy and use renewable sources for power.
  • Increasingly use the planning system to achieve biodiversity gain and restore habitats.
  • Works with many partners as well as encouraging residents wishing to do what they can at home.

The new motion complements the climate emergency declaration for Somerset West and Taunton, which I proposed and was unanimously agreed in February 2019. After delays, a joint Climate Strategy for Somerset and SWT Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience Action Plan will be debated soon at Committees and Full Council, starting with Scrutiny Committee on 14th October 2020.

Click to view full infographic

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 I think 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”

Sandys Moor – design proposals for 94 new homes

A planning application has been submitted for the access, appearance, landscaping, layout and scale of 94 new homes at Sandys Moor, Wiveliscombe.

Outline planning permission was given in March 2019.

The new proposals (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 and the planning layout images (as shown above) give 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.

Coronavirus guidance

The Government now says there are three simple actions we must all do to keep on protecting each other:

  • Wash hands – keep washing your hands regularly.
  • Cover face – wear a face covering in enclosed spaces.
  • Make space – stay at least 2 metre apart or 1 metre with a face covering or other precautions.

If you have coronavirus symptoms (high temperature, a new continuous cough, a loss of or change to your sense of smell or taste): get a test and stay at home.

Local COVID alert levels: what you need to know – Somerset is medium (national restrictions apply)

Wear and make face coverings – required in shops and other indoor settings

Get the NHS COVID-19 app to help protect yourself and others

Badges and posters for social distancing – includes templates for those with difficulties or concerns in maintaining social distancing.

Communities in the Wiveliscombe and 10 Parishes area have been doing a great job to help people stay safe and cope with the unusual restrictions. Please continue to look after yourselves and others too.

Help in Wiveliscombe and 10 Parishes: contact the Community Office (Wiveliscombe Area Partnership) on 01984 624 777 (Mon-Fri 10am-1pm, Sat 10am – 12:30pm, excluding bank holidays – answerphone at other times) or by email at

Government: Coronavirus (COVID-19): what you need to do, including protecting yourself and others, testing, local restrictions, financial support, schools, childcare, businesses and organisations, healthcare workers and carers, travel and public services.

Somerset Coronavirus Support – Council Helpline – 0300 790 6275 for Coronavirus-related support from Somerset West and Taunton Council and Somerset County Council.  Open 8am-6pm,  7 days a week. Help offered includes: emotional support, financial support, personal care, support getting essential food supplies and prescriptions, housing advice, transport advice for urgent medical appointments, waste collection and disposal. Advice and information also offered online – see below.

NHS advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19):

Lister House Surgery: news and guidance

Mental health information from Somerset County Council (good advice on looking after your health, wellbeing and safety):

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 includes businesses, help with housing benefit, council tax, rent and mortgage payments, staying safe online, health, tenants and landlords, bereavment, planning and a Community Support Pack:

Somerset Waste Partnership service updates and disposing of waste for anyone with symptoms of coronavirus:

Somerset County Council: Latest Coronavirus updates, including school meal home delivery, early years childcare, shielding hubs update, self isolation, education, volunteering opportunities, trading standards advice for hospitality businesses, appeal for protective equipment, virtual training for foster carers, hospital discharge, registering a death and encouraging activity at home

Somerset County Council services affected by the Coronavirus:

Public rights of way and COVID-19: County Council update; FWAG SouthWest update

BBC website is good for answering questions and providing the latest news:

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”

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 “2019 and into 2020”

Local Plan and Climate consultations

Events are being held in January and February 2020 to consult on a Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience Plan and a new Local Plan for Somerset West and Taunton (SWT) and on a Climate Emergency Strategy for Somerset.

These include a roadshow with displays at Wiveliscombe Community Centre from 10am to 3pm on Thursday, 20th February 2020. Council staff will be on hand to discuss the plans and to record your ideas.

Online consultations:

Green general election vote increases

Caroline Lucas has been Britain’s only Green Party MP since 2010 and has made tremendous efforts in helping to push forward a Green agenda in parliament.

For the General Election on 12 December 2019, the Greens agreed an electoral arrangement with the Lib Dems and Plaid Cymru, with the help of Unite to Remain. The Greens stood aside in Taunton Deane, while the Lib Dems stood aside in others seats, such as Bristol West.

In the European elections earlier this year, the Green Party secured more votes than the Conservatives, with the Greens receiving the most votes of all parties in Brighton and Hove, Bristol and Norwich, and coming second in Sheffield, Cambridge and Oxford.

The general election outcome was disappointing, but the total Green vote increased by over 60% to more than 850,000. These voters showed clear support for a Green New Deal to tackle the climate crisis, transform the economy and build a better country by putting citizens’ wellbeing at the heart of Government.

Green Party co-leader, Sian Berry, said: “It’s a shame that our broken first past the post system will not recognise the true political will of the people and I look forward to the day we win proportional representation so we can see our votes fully reflected in the number of Green MPs.”

Top results in 2019 for the Green Party were:

  • Brighton Pavilion – Caroline Lucas won and increased her vote to 57%
  • Bristol West – Carla Denyer came second with 25%
  • Dulwich and West Norwood – Jonathan Bartley came second with 16%
  • Bury St Edmunds – Green Party came 3rd with 16%
  • Isle of Wight – Green Party came 3rd with 15%

Living carbon free

To plan for the future, it is important to understand what is needed to achieve carbon neutrality or net zero carbon emissions.

There is a good guide to Living Carbon Free, which is based on analysis by the official Committee on Climate Change in their Net Zero reports.

Key elements of the Net Zero scenario (see my summary) are:

HEAT – Improved home insulation, smart control systems and widespread use of efficient electric heat pumps; together with hybrid hydrogen boilers, particularly in older homes that cannot be insulated to the highest standards. In suitable areas, bio-methane gas and district heating may be used.

TRANSPORT – Reduce car use by walking, cycling, using buses and trains, and travelling less. Also switching to electric cars and flying more efficiently and less frequently. Trains and lorries to be either electric or hydrogen powered.

ELECTRICITY – Fully decarbonise the power supply through more large-scale renewables, together with some gas power combined with new technologies for carbon capture and storage. Also more local renewable energy and storage, together with a flexible smart grid, which is able to better manage demand.

DIET – Reduce meat (especially beef and lamb) and dairy consumption, which have high methane emissions.

WASTE – Reduce waste, especially food waste, and reuse and recycle more.

LAND – Low emission and efficient farming practices, more energy crops and less productive agricultural land switched to other uses, particularly more woodland and peatland restoration.

INDUSTRY – Decarbonise industrial operations and phase out the use of fluorinated gases in medical inhalers, refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps.

OFFSETTING – Any remaining greenhouse gas emissions to be offset through carbon capture and storage.

We should choose to adopt carbon-saving habits and technologies whenever we can. As well as reducing our carbon footprints, better diets, warm homes and more walking and cycling improves our health too.

Widespread adoption of changes needed to achieve net zero carbon will require new policies and programmes by government and local councils. These need to be introduced and developed as quickly as possible. They also need to be implemented fairly, so that changes are affordable for all and extra assistance is provided where needed.

Many of the changes should reduce our impact on the natural world and be accompanied by plans to increase biodiversity and wildlife habitats.    Continue reading “Living carbon free”

Sign up for rural broadband

New fibre broadband possibilities have emerged for rural parishes, following the cancellation in September 2019 of Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) contracts with Gigaclear.

Gigaclear themselves are close to completing a fibre network around Croford, which extends from Langley Marsh along Grant Lane, Quaking House Lane to Spring Grove and Bindon Farm. They expect to start connecting customers by next March, and may then extend the network further if there is demand. In future, they plan to install fibre cables overhead on telegraph poles and in Openreach ducts where possible.

A new entrant to the local market is Technological Services, who are building a fibre network from Shillingford and up to Skilgate, where they are already signing up residents. Working with Parish Councils, they plan to extend to the Upton area in Spring 2020 and then on to Huish Champflower by Summer 2020.

Technological is a small company providing internet services for rural businesses, with residential broadband a new market for them. To avoid the cost of digging up roads, they are working with landowners to mostly lay their cable in fields (using a mole plough as shown in photo above). If there is demand, they could eventually cover all rural areas in the 10 Parishes.

A potential provider on a bigger scale is Openreach, who have a Community Fibre Partnership scheme, which involves working with a local community to build a customised solution where there is demand.

All these network providers rely on there being enough interest and funding from Government Gigabit Vouchers, which contribute £2,500 for small businesses and £500 for residents towards installation costs. Vouchers are paid to a registered supplier once connections are confirmed.    Continue reading “Sign up for rural broadband”

Town Council resignation

With regret, I resigned from Wiveliscombe Town Council. Unfortunately, some on-going issues made this role difficult and it seemed better to focus on my role as a district councillor.

As a town councillor, I particularly contributed to retaining our public toilets and library over the last couple of years, which were threatened with closure due to cuts by the former Taunton Deane Borough Council and Somerset County Council, respectively. In particular, progressing library decisions through the Town Council was at times challenging and exposed problems.

There have been improvements since the elections in May, when many good new people were elected, especially through Wivey-Community-Together. Most are new to the Town Council and, with some good old hands, I know will aim to build a positive and forward looking town council for Wiveliscombe and our community. One of my last contributions was to propose a governance review and to start on this with others on a working group, which has already led to beneficial changes and it would be great if it led to more.

I will continue to work hard as district councillor serving the people and communities of the Wiveliscombe and District Ward on the new Somerset West and Taunton Council. The District and County Councils are the principal local authorities and provide most of our local services.

Achieving carbon neutrality

Work will be starting soon on preparing plans to tackle the climate emergency at both Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT) and jointly by all five Somerset principal councils, including the county council.

This follows climate emergency declarations we all made earlier this year, including as a result of the motion I proposed at SWT, which was one of the first.

Working groups are being set-up for the district council and jointly county-wide. I have a seat on the all-party working group for SWT and the joint scrutiny group for Somerset.

I am a little frustrated at the time it has taken to get the working groups established, but am very keen to see work get underway, and hope to contribute to the development of effective plans and to see good policies adopted and projects started.   Continue reading “Achieving carbon neutrality”

Wivey voted positively for town council

Good candidates were elected to Wiveliscombe Town Council, including all eleven standing as Wivey-Community-Together (W-C-T). This like-minded group wishes to see a positive and forward-looking town council and to work well and constructively with all town councillors. W-C-T was set-up to jointly campaign for the election and not to continue as a separate group.

The full result, declared at about 6:30am on Friday 3 May 2019, was:


Dave Mansell (W-C-T) – 750 votes
Mark Blaker (W-C-T) – 730 votes
Gaby Bellamy (W-C-T) – 705 votes
Ele Laker (W-C-T) – 652 votes
Eddie Gaines – 585 votes
Patrick Boyle (W-C-T) – 492 votes
Martin Keane (W-C-T) – 487 votes
Ruth Irvine (W-C-T) – 481 votes
Julie Mitchell (W-C-T) – 474 votes
Pauline McNichol (W-C-T) – 473 votes
Cath Irvine (W-C-T) – 470 votes
Jon Burgess (W-C-T) – 451 votes
Brian Collingridge – 339 votes
Roger Wilson – 313 votes
Peter Berman – 305 votes
Bryn Wilson – 283 votes
Fodo Higginson – 275 votes
Adrian Woollaston – 274 votes


Stephen Shopland – 269 votes
Tim Parker – 237 votes
Alison Woollaston – 234 votes
Martin Rook – 187 votes
Jill Berntsson – 177 votes


Wivey voted for Dave & Mark

I am very pleased to have been re-elected to serve the Wiveliscombe and District ward on Somerset West and Taunton Council, along with Mark Blaker (Independent).

The full result, declared at about 3am on Friday 3 May 2019, was:


Dave Mansell (Green) – 1,070 votes (64%)
Mark Blaker (Independent) – 893 votes (53%)


Christopher Chanter (Conservative) – 430 votes (26%)
Phillip Thorne (Conservative) – 383 votes (23%)
Danny Clark-Lowes (Liberal Democrat) – 318 votes (19%)
Bryn Wilson (Independent) – 248 votes (15%)

Voters in the ward each had 2 votes and 3,342 valid votes were cast. Percentages above show support by all voters and assume each cast two votes (actually a few only cast one vote). Also assuming that two votes were cast per voter, the turnout was 41%. The total ward electorate is 4,050.      Continue reading “Wivey voted for Dave & Mark”

Approval for mixed use development at Sandys Moor in Wivey

At the last meeting of TDBC’s Planning Committee on 27 March 2019, approval was given to a planning application for mixed housing and light industry at Sandy’s Moor, off the Taunton Road in Wiveliscombe.

This was despite the proposal being contrary to the Council’s Local Plan, which allocated the site for business use only and not for housing. The extra housing will add to pressure on the town’s infrastucture, including increasing parking difficulties in the town centre.

The planning committee’s consideration of the application and officer’s report was unsatisfactory for several reasons, as covered well in a West Somerset Free Press report.

Before proceeding, the developer will have to meet a number of conditions and supply further details for prior approval by the district council. There are no realistic avenues for challenging the Council’s decision, so the best that can be done are improvements to the final details and to seek funding to improve Wivey’s infrastructure, such as better pedestrian access and crossings to the site and along Taunton Road and Church Street, as well as funding for our schools and to improve central parking in Wivey. I plan to press for these.

Wivey library’s new future

Contracts were signed today between Somerset County Council, Wiveliscombe Area Partnership and Wiveliscombe Town Council to secure the future of our library.

This marks a new beginning and the end of a long campaign to save our library from closure.

Wiveliscombe Area Partnership will manage the new Community Library Partnership, which will take over from April. Karen, our wonderful librarian, will continue in post and stay employed by the County Council. Staffed opening hours will also stay the same. The library will remain part of the Somerset network and be serviced by LibrariesWest. Funding will come from the County Council, Town Council and neighbouring Parish Councils.

It’s been a long and difficult path to this point. Many have contributed and Wivey has shown time after time that we want to retain our library. I have done my best to help as an active member of the Save Wivey Library group, the Town Council and the Area Partnership. I was directly involved in the negotiations with the County Council and, alongside others, helped to finalise the contracts for the Town Council.

Wivey library is already well used and highly valued. It can continue to provide the same services and will now have added freedom to develop in new and exciting ways. It’s Wivey’s library, serving the town and all parishes around. Continue to make the best of it and please help positively to make it even better.

Somerset West & Taunton declares a climate emergency

A motion I proposed to declare a climate emergency was unanimously agreed on 21st February 2019 by the Shadow Full Council for Somerset West and Taunton, which will soon take over as our new district authority.

The motion noted the stark scientific warnings on the growing impacts and risks from global warming to our environment, economy and social systems.

Work will start towards making Somerset West and Taunton carbon neutral by 2030. A cross party working group will work with council officers to develop a Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience Plan. A small provisional budget has been established and costed proposals will be prepared for a range of projects, which could include:

  • Enabling more cycling, walking and use of shared and public transport.
  • Providing electric car charging points in car parks and other suitable locations.
  • Adopting high energy efficiency standards for new buildings.
  • Developing a programme to retrofit energy saving and insulation in council buildings, including housing.
  • Promoting waste reduction, reuse and recycling on the go.
  • The Council using electricity generated from renewable energy.
  • Supporting green businesses, social enterprises and investment in local renewable energy and infrastructure, as well as divestment from fossil fuels.
  • Adapting for flooding, coastal erosion and other impacts of climate change.

The leader of the Council said funding would be provided for new projects, but committed councillors will be needed to push it all forward.

The Government will be asked to provide guidance, the powers and resources.  The motion noted that individuals cannot make the reductions necessary on their own. Society needs to change its infrastructure, incentives, regulations and taxation to make low carbon living easier and a common social norm.

Already, average global temperatures have increased by 1°C. Scientists and the United Nations say we need to do all we can to limit the increase to no more than 1.5°C. Current projections will take us past this to 3°C of global warming and more.

We need to do all we can to prevent this. Some good progress has been made, but we need to do much more. Declaring a climate emergency, backed by action, is a start.

The motion (see full text) was seconded by Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts and had cross-party support from seven other Councillors for the new Shadow Authority.

Sign the petition here to call on Parliament to declare a climate emergency.


2018 and into 2019

As we move into 2019, my first nine months as Borough Councillor for Wiveliscombe and West Deane are briefly summarised below.

Since being elected in April, I have been asked to help with more than 40 issues by local people. I have been able to assist with a good number or have tried to do so by providing suggestions or contacts. Planning concerns have been most common. Other issues raised have included council house repairs, waste collections, street cleaning, noise and car parking.      Continue reading “2018 and into 2019”

Saving our library

Wiveliscombe Area Partnership (WAP) have been confirmed as the lead partner to negotiate with the County Council to run a Community Library Partnership (CLP) for Wiveliscombe library.

As proposed at the community meeting on 25 October, the County Council will be funded to manage and staff the library with WAP taking responsibility for managing the building. SCC will also provide the books, back office systems and £9,000 per year. The Town Council has committed £8,500 and further contributions are being sought from neighbouring parish councils.

Time to complete the arrangements is tight and need to be put in place by mid-February.      Continue reading “Saving our library”