Somerset West and Taunton Councillor (Green Party and Independents Group)
Somerset West and Taunton Councillor (Green Party and Independents Group)
With regret, I have today resigned from Wiveliscombe Town Council. Unfortunately, a number of factors have made this role difficult for me. However, there are a lot of good people on the town council. I hope these will continue to build a positive and forward looking town council for Wiveliscombe and our wonderful community.
I will continue to work hard as district councillor serving the people and communities of the Wiveliscombe and District Ward on Somerset West and Taunton Council. The District and County Councils are the principal local authorities for our area and provide most of our public services. At the current time, I am particularly focused on actively contributing on climate emergency working groups for both the district and county, as well as addressing a number of local issues and problems raised with me.
Work will be starting soon on preparing plans to tackle the climate emergency at both Somerset West and Taunton Council (SWT) and Somerset County Council.
Working groups are being set-up for the district council and jointly county-wide, which will involve all principal councils in Somerset. I have a seat on both groups. They follow climate emergency declarations earlier this year, including as a result of the motion I proposed at SWT.
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.
To stop global warming and climate change, we need to stop the accumulation of greenhouses gases or carbon emissions in the atmosphere, which have several sources, including the burning of fossil fuels. To reduce these to zero will require many changes, including to our economy and lifestyles. The following are two good guides on what will be needed for the UK to achieve carbon neutrality or net zero carbon emissions:
Centre for Alternative Technology: Zero Carbon Britain – Rethinking the Future (2013)
Committee on Climate Change: Net Zero – The UK’s contribution to stopping global warming (2019)
The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) is an independent, statutory body established under the Climate Change Act 2008 to provide advice to government on building a low-carbon economy and preparing for climate change.
Energy Systems Catapult have published a short study called Living Carbon Free, which is based on CCC’s Net Zero reports and describes what it would mean to cut carbon in UK households by 100% across six activities: heating, transport, electricity, aviation, diet and waste. I recommend reading their report and thinking about what changes you could start making at home to move towards living carbon free.
We can all make a contribution, but will only to be able to get so far, as action is also needed by businesses and by our councils and government. I look forward to a lead from SWT and SCC and the necessary commitment being made by the government too.
See reports for further information.
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
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 (Con) – 430 votes (26%)
Phillip Thorne (Conservative) – 383 votes (23%)
Danny Clark-Lowes (Lib Dem) – 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.
There are now two Greens on the District Council, as I am joined by Andy Pritchard who was elected in West Monkton and Cheddon Fitzpaine. Greens also came close in South Quantock and Norton Fitzwarren and Staplegrove.
The Conservatives have lost control of the Council and the new make-up is:
Liberal Democrat – 30 seats
Independent – 14 seats
Conservative – 10 seats
Labour – 3 seats
Green Party – 2 seats
The overall voter turnout in Somerset West and Taunton was only 27%.
On the new Council, it is likely the Green Party will form a group with the Independents.
The Liberal Democrats have previously called for a committee system on the Council to replace the Executive model. The Green Party strongly supports this change and looks forward to a committee system soon being put in place for Somerset West and Taunton, which will allow all groups to better work together and more councillors to be involved in decision-making.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
County Council responsibilities have also been raised, including the cuts to our bus service and speeding concerns. I have shared these with our County Councillor or passed on to County officers, but making progress has been difficult due to SCC’s financial troubles.
A lot of my time has been taken up with our library, due to the County consultation on it’s closure. I actively supported the Save Wivey Library campaign and presented three reports to the Town Council. I’m now on the Town Council’s library working group and also centrally involved as a trustee of Wiveliscombe Area Partnership, who have offered to be the community partner in a Community Library Partnership.
Parking concerns in Wiveliscombe have often been raised, mainly relating to problems caused in The Square or difficulty in finding a car park space for shopping. This has been discussed several times over the year by the Town Council, but, regretably, without agreement being reached on the main issues or if anything should be done. Although, road markings have been repainted and improved by SCC.
Two major housing proposals in Wiveliscombe have been pursued during the year. Gladman appealed their planning refusal at an Inquiry and I checked TDBC would mount a strong defence, which eventually won the day. A mixed housing and business use application at Sandys Moor raised different problems. I submitted reasons to object and a planning decision is still awaited.
During 2018, Taunton Deane Borough Council has been on a path of change, due to the merger with West Somerset Council and a major transformation programme, which is reducing staffing levels by over 20%. This has been disruptive to some council services, but officers have done their best. The new council organisation now being created will be very different and time will tell whether the plans on which it is based were sound.
Council business for TDBC has reduced, but it has been slowly growing for the Shadow Council of Somerset West and Taunton, which takes over from 1st April 2019.
At TDBC, a new council-funded hotel proposed for Firepool was debated several times (which I voted against as too risky). We also considered proposals on wards for the new council, crime reduction and CCTV in Taunton, and staff redundancy payments.
Shadow Council business included the interim constitution and recruitment of the Chief Executive. I have a seat on the Scrutiny Committee, which looks in-depth at reports before they go to the full council. These included fees and charges, the Council Tax Support Scheme (we proposed to increase the cap which was reversed by full Council), and Council Tax charges for empty properties and second homes. We also received reports on the transformation programme and the new Council’s budget.
I also have a seat on the Joint Scrutiny Panel for Somerset Waste Board, where I proposed small improvements to the Business Plan. We considered a contract extension for Recycling Centres and the new collections contract, which is to be awarded in March 2019 and to commence in 2020. I have a particular interest in the latter as the former Development Manager at Somerset Waste Partnership and was pleased to see good progress, which has built on a report I had presented as an officer in December 2016.
Elections to the new Council are due in May 2019, when I plan to stand for the new slightly larger ward to be called Wiveliscombe and District.
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.
If all proceeds smoothly, the new Community Library Partnership will take over on 1 April 2019 and allow the library to be kept open for the same hours, staffed by a librarian, as currently. In time, more community involvement and further improvements could be considered.
The announcement was made today by Wiveliscombe Town Council. Marian Mann, chair of the Town Council’s library working group, said, “Councillors are very pleased that a solution has been found for the way forward and we can start the new year with a bright looking future for the library.”
Marian, Tim Parker and I presented a report to the Town Council on 10 December, with a motion to take us step-by-step through decisions needed. It was agreed:
• To allocate £8,500 in the Town Council’s 2019/20 annual budget for the library.
• To seek additional funding, including a total of £1-2,000 per annum from neighbouring Parish Councils.
• To establish a Town Council library working group, consisting of Marian Mann, Tim Parker, Fodo Higginson, Eddie Gaines and myself.
• The Town Council would not be the lead partner entering into a Community Library Partnership and community groups interested in this role were invited to come forward to the library working group by 14 December.
See reports presented to Wiveliscombe Town Council on the library.
UPDATE (8/2/19): Good progress is being made on arrangements and contracts for the new Community Library Partnership for Wiveliscombe. An extension to SCC’s deadline for signing these has been agreed, which is now 27 February 2019.
Somerset County Council library recommendations have been published today (16/10/2018). Wiveliscombe library is to be closed unless a community partnership can be agreed.
There are still options to save our library which will be discussed at a public meeting at 7:30pm on 25 October at Wiveliscombe Community Centre. This has been organised by the Friends of Wiveliscombe Library campaign group.
UPDATE (26/10/2018) – There was a packed meeting, with about 80 people, at the Community Centre last night. We looked at options for saving our library by setting-up a community library partnership with Somerset County Council, who have offered support (see: slides presented). Strongest support and near unanimous backing was given to asking the Town Council to be the lead partner with SCC, with the additional funding needed to be met by adding £5-8 (Band D) on our Council Tax, as well as by asking neighbouring parishes if they can contribute too. I offered to present a report to the next Town Council meeting on 12 November. To stop our library being shut from January, approval will be needed to submit a detailed expression of interest to SCC by 15 November.
TOWN COUNCIL REPORTS – See: Library reports
SCC UPDATES – See: SCC’s Libraries Redesign programme 2018
Taunton Deane Borough Council are working with Somerset County Council to save Taunton’s park and ride sites from closure.
This is one of the latest cuts proposed by SCC, which is suffering from increasing financial difficulties. These result from the government’s removal of the Revenue Support Grant and failure to provide a fair funding system for local authorities. Also SCC should have raised more from Council Tax in previous years.
I support measures to allow the park and ride sites to be maintained and welcome TDBC’s initiative. Park and ride provides an important service for commuters, shoppers and hospital users from Wivey and other areas outside of Taunton. The loss of these sites would also increase traffic and parking problems in the town.
UPDATE (7/9/2018) – GOOD NEWS: The park and rides are saved for now, although there could be the possibility of higher charges in future.
A press release issued today says: “Taunton Deane Borough Council is stepping in to save the town’s two park and ride schemes following talks with Somerset County Council”.
TDBC “has pledged a one-off contribution to keep the park and ride sites at Silk Mills and Gateway open until at least September 2019 … TDBC will provide the initial financial support that will allow the service to continue to operate while a commercially viable service is developed by the authorities and First Bus to complement existing parking provision.” TDBC’s funding is coming from reserves for unexpected events or emergencies.
UPDATE (18/12/2018): Unfortunately, fares are now to rise from Christmas Eve, but it is still a convenient and good value service, which is worth using and maintaining. Click here for service details and costs.
UPDATE (23/7/2019): Following a report to SWT Executive today, further funding will allow Taunton’s park and ride car parks to continue until March 2020, while further measures are to be explored and implemented to put the services “on a more commercial and sustainable long term footing”. These measures focus on promotion and incentives, such as a scheme for staff at Musgrove Park Hospital. It is noted SWT sets charges for town centre car parks which influences use of the park and ride. Use has increased. There is an ambition for two more sites and interest in weekend opening, but saving the current sites from closure by SCC is clearly the current priority.
A planning application has been submitted for a mixed use development of housing and light industry units at Sandys Moor, off Taunton Road in Wiveliscombe. See report for details and how to submit comments to Taunton Deane Borough Council.
On current evidence, I have the following views on this proposal:
See report for further information and how to submit comments online to TDBC. This includes results of a survey on your views.
The inquiry into Gladman Development’s appeal to build 95 houses on the field of elephant grass off North Street in Wiveliscombe started on 31 July 2018, but adjourned the same morning. Both TDBC and Gladman said they needed time to update their cases in light of the new National Planning Policy Framework published on 24 July, which was accepted by the inspector.
Just before the inquiry started, concerns heightened following the collapse of TDBC’s case for a similar inquiry on Gladman’s application at Rockwell Green. Assurances have been given that TDBC has a stronger defence for the Wiveliscombe inquiry and a team of specialists to be provide evidence will be involved. For further information see report on Gladman – predatory developer targets Wivey.
UPDATE – GOOD NEWS (7/11/2018): Gladman have withdrawn their appeal and the inquiry into their housing scheme will not proceed, with no further action to be taken.
Over the summer, the county council withdrew their highways objections to the Gladman proposals, which prompted the town council to submit 24 pages of new evidence prepared by Bill Whitman, Tim Parker and myself. Our evidence included photographs of existing traffic problems before the further impact of the development and showed the landscape that would be harmed.
The Government recently announced technical changes for assessing land supply for housing which may have made it more difficult for Gladman to argue against planning refusal.
Taunton Deane and West Somerset Councils are merging.
Since 2013, there has been shared officer management and joint working arrangements between the two councils. In 2016, a transformation programme was agreed with changes to staffing, processes and technology to support new ways of working. These included the creation of a single, new, district council, with the aim of modernising and streamlining council services and their delivery to achieve savings.
The Secretary of State supported the merger of the two councils in November 2017, with parliamentary approval following and the change order signed in May 2018.
A new Shadow Council for Somerset West and Taunton has now been formed from all councillors on Taunton Deane and West Somerset Councils, which had its first meeting on 7 June 2018.
The Boundary Commission is carrying out a review and consultation to decide the number of councillors and wards for the new authority.
The current Wiveliscombe and West Deane ward returns two Borough (or District) Councillors and covers the parishes of Ashbrittle, Bathealton, Chipstable and Stawley and the town of Wiveliscombe.
The new ward proposed will also return two District Councillors and cover the same area while adding the parishes of Brompton Ralph, Clatworthy, Fitzhead, Huish Champflower, Skilgate and Upton. This includes all of the 10 Parishes area except Milverton.
The name proposed for the new ward is Brendons and Wiveliscombe. Some have suggested that Wiveliscombe, as the service centre, should be first in the new ward name and that Brendons does not apply well to the West Deane parishes.
Wiveliscombe Town Council has responded to the review suggesting the new ward name should be Wiveliscombe and District.
UPDATE (23/10/18): The Boundary Commission have published their final recommendations for wards to be used in the first elections to the new authority in May 2019. Our ward will consist of the parishes proposed during the consultation, but the name will be Wiveliscombe and District.
Friends of Wiveliscombe Library prepared a comprehensive joint response to the County Council’s consultation on proposals which threaten to close Wivey library. FoWL’s 40-page response was supported by the town council, five parish councils, local schools and churches, the business group, civic society and Wiveliscombe Area Partnership.
The response, along with a book of protest signed by 650 local people, was presented by Pauline Homeshaw, Kiran Narang and myself to our County Councillor, James Hunt, at the start of Wiveliscombe Town Council’s meeting on 11th June 2018.
FoWL’s response shows Wiveliscombe library is one of the best used in Somerset, offers good value for money and its closure would transfer costs to our community which are larger than the savings that would be made by the County Council.
A high level summary of the consultation is due to be presented to a County Council Committee on 10th July. The consultation results and recommendations on the future of Somerset libraries should then be published on 27th September. These will be considered by a Scrutiny Committee on 9th October, followed by a final Cabinet decision due on 17th October. Community Library Partnerships proposals will be considered from Nov 2018 to Jan 2019, followed by implementation up to April 2019.
Within days of being elected, I was given papers to sign and a briefing from council officers. I also received a copy of the council’s constitution and a pack of reports (235 pages) for a full meeting of all councillors, which was held on the Tuesday after the by-election.
Amongst items considered at the full council meeting was a proposal to borrow money to invest in developing ‘a new high quality mid-market hotel at Firepool’, which I voted against but saw the motion carried by the Conservative majority.
Since, I have attended further meetings and briefings, including on the council merger and staff transformation programme, new National Planning Policy Framework and a scrutiny meeting, which considered the process for small grants awarded to community groups.
Locally, I have been asked to assist people with a number of problems, including on waste collections, council house repairs and planning matters. It has been rewarding to be able to help where I can and I have found Council officers mostly very helpful and welcoming.
I work with the ward’s other borough councillor, Eddie Gaines, and have joined the independent group on the council, which has given me a seat on the Community Scrutiny Committee.
I will continue to support the campaigns to save Wiveliscombe library and reverse bus cuts, which are county council responsibilities.
As a borough councillor, I will speak up for the interests of Wiveliscombe and West Deane, as well as what I see best for Taunton Deane as a whole. I will also be looking for opportunities, including by working with others, to introduce more green thinking, that looks after people and our planet, into council policies and strategies.
However, over the next year, it is clear that a lot of our time will be taken up preparing for the merger between Taunton Deane and West Somerset Councils from May 2019.
I was elected as Taunton Deane Borough Councillor at a by-election on 5th April 2018 and sit alongside Eddie Gaines, who is the other Borough Councillor for the Wiveliscombe and West Deane ward.
The by-election result was:
Dave Mansell (Green) – 600 votes
Sue Levinge (Lib Dem) – 389 votes
Phillip Thorne (Conservative) – 352 votes
Click here for further details.