Bus improvement bid

Bus services for Wiveliscombe should improve if a £163m Somerset funding bid is successful.

In March 2021, the Government announced a £3bn fund to improve bus services. To access funding, Local Transport Authorities needed to prepare and publish Bus Service Improvement Plans by the end of October 2021.

Somerset County Council organised stakeholder workshops, which I attended over the summer, and a public survey, which had 1,549 responses. Findings fed into their improvement plan, which was approved on 20 October 2021. Proposals include:

  • A core network of buses running every 60 minutes from 7am to 7pm every day (Mon-Sun), including route 25 to Wiveliscombe.
  • 10-minute Park & Ride services to the Musgrove Park Hospital and town centre, with 15- and 30-minute services on key corridors between principal towns.
  • Discounted fares for 16-25 year olds across all services.
  • Trials for a £1 around town fare.
  • A digital portal for information and tickets for all operators.
  • Better integration with rail and coach networks.
  • Upgraded bus stations and better bus stop design and facilities.
  • More bus priority measures, such as bus gates and bus lanes.
  • 100% zero emission buses by 2030, starting with Taunton Park & Ride.

The plans include a two-hourly link between Barnstaple and Taunton via Wiveliscombe, and an additional bus between Dulverton and Taunton, with links to Minehead and Tiverton. It is proposed demand-responsive Slinky buses will operate across the Exmoor area from Dulverton, with booking times reduced to an hour or less in advance.

Mobility hubsMobility hubs will connect the bus network to other modes of transport, including cycling and walking. Trials for rural mobility hubs are proposed, initially in Dulverton and later in Wiveliscombe.

It is proposed to work with community transport providers, such as Wivey Link, although little detail is given.

A Bus Advisory Board will be established with local bus operators, train operating companies, councils and bus passenger representatives.

It is expected to hear the level of Government funding awarded by March 2022 and an enhanced partnership with bus operators will be established by April 2022.

There is a long way to go to establishing a bus service that provides a realistic alternative to many car trips, but the Bus Service Improvement Plan should allow some good steps forward. I look forward to providing updates on service improvements that result.

Broadband progress and plans

Full fibre broadband services and plans for Wiveliscombe and neighbouring rural parishes are continuing to develop, with varying levels of progress being made by providers throughout the Wivey area.

Technological – going live in the Brendon Hills

Technological networkMost local progress has been made by Technological. This local company have built a live full fibre network from Shillingford to Skilgate, Upton, Huish Champflower and Chipstable, including Raddington and Waterrow. Work is in progress on extending to Clatworthy.

Technological’s network has been funded by the rural Gigabit Broadband Voucher Scheme, which has closed to new applications. Technological can only serve households who have applied for this voucher funding. There are small gaps in their network, some of which they hope to cover if given permission by Connecting Devon and Somerset.

There is a new Project Gigabit voucher scheme, but this is more restricted and does not offer the same opportunities in our area.

Gigaclear – completing their Croford Network outside Wiveliscombe

As a legacy from their previous Connecting Devon and Somerset contract, Gigaclear have been working to complete their Croford fibre network, serving a linear path from Langley Marsh through Croford to Spring Grove. They expect to finally go live before the end of October 2021, but cannot commit to this yet and are not planning to extend this network further. This is expected to be the only fibre broadband provided for this area – register your interest with Gigaclear.

Airband – surveying rural parishes

At the end of last year, Connecting Devon and Somerset awarded an open access contract to Airband to increase full fibre broadband coverage in Somerset West and Taunton, with delivery in phases from 2021 to 2024. Airband have supplied the following on their current progress in the Wivey area:

  • Fitzhead is currently (Sept 2021) at the survey and design stage.
  • Bathealton – work is due to start this winter (2021/22).
  • Ashbrittle, Brompton Ralph and Stawley – work to start in the spring of 2023.

If you live in these parishes, I advise checking availability and registering your interest with Airband.

Openreach – Wiveliscombe plans

Wiveliscombe Exchange AreaFollowing a change in Ofcom price cap rules on connection costs, Openreach announced plans in May 2021 to upgrade telephone exchanges and extend full fibre broadband to 20 million premises, including hard to serve communities in the South West. Online information says that the Wiveliscombe exchange area (shown in map) will be covered between April 2021 and December 2026. We may have to wait for more details on their local plans and some parts of the area may be covered by Airband. See their website for information on their other broadband services.

Other fibre progress

There have been examples of other fibre connections in the ward, notably by Openreach to a property in Clatworthy, which has also allowed a service to be provided to some properties in Huish Champflower. An Openreach build has been planned in Brompton Ralph, although there appear to be some doubts and Airband may now connect here.

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 charging point installed at the top of Croft Way car park and lots of tree planting.

Click on the following links for further information:

More green projects will soon 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 insultation 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.

Coronavirus guidance and vaccinations

Vaccination guidance from the NHS:

COVID-19 remains a serious health risk. Government guidance says you should stay cautious to help protect yourself and others. The main messages, updated on 30 November 2021, are:

  • Let fresh air in if you meet indoors. Meeting outdoors is safer.
  • You must wear a face covering in shops and on all public transport, including taxis and private hire vehicles
  • Get tested and self-isolate if required.
  • If you haven’t already, get vaccinated.

The BBC continue to update a helpful summary of Covid guidance and measures. Scientists have highlighted the benefits of continuing to wear masks in enclosed public spaces.

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 vaccination, staying safe, testing, self-isolating, travel, long COVID, self-employment and business support, work and benefits, schools, universities and childcare.

Somerset Coronavirus Support 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. Council advice and information is also online – see below.

Somerset NHSCovid-19 vaccinations in Somerset

NHS advice on Coronavirus (COVID-19): www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19

Lister House Surgery: Covid 19 information

Mental health information from Somerset County Council (looking after your emotional health, wellbeing and safety): www.somerset.gov.uk/coronavirus/covid-19-mental-health-information

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 on schools, early years childcare, travel, testing, advice for vulnerable people, health and well-being and lots more.

Somerset County Council services affected by the Coronavirus: www.somerset.gov.uk/covid-19-our-affected-services

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: www.bbc.co.uk/news/explainers

UPDATED 30 November 2021

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”

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.

Consultation documents:

Following the first consultation stage, climate emergency action plans will be produced for both SWT and Somerset. There should then be another short public consultation before final plans are adopted by the summer.

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. Continue reading “Green general election vote increases”

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.