New Somerset Council

Somerset Council has now taken over from the county and district councils in Somerset. This big change was proposed by the County Council in 2020 during the pandemic. Government agreed, with consultation following and a Secretary of State decision in July 2021.

Elections to the new council were in May last year. Those of us then elected have served as county councillors for a year, as well as taking decisions on setting up the new council.

The County Council has been renamed as Somerset Council and the districts, including Somerset West and Taunton Council, merged in. The new council takes on responsibilities from both former tiers, which have always had overlaps. It should be beneficial and simpler to bring all together under one roof.

Somerset Council – see: services list and details

Services provision should largely continue as before, although there will be common arrangements established where these had varied across districts. Current planning policies will continue to apply, until a new Somerset-wide Local Plan is agreed, which is expected to take 3-5 years.

There is a new website and a single phone number for all services. Old council websites and phone numbers will redirect to the new ones for up to 12 months. The new website will show the wide range of services provided and contain most of what is needed, although further content will be added over coming months.

Council offices with receptions will continue, although there may be some rationalisation in the future and some surplus buildings already identified, which are to be sold or rented.

There is a new council logo, which was produced at low cost in-house. This will be used where needed from the start, but otherwise will be phased in over time as signs and assets are replaced.

As councillors, we have reviewed arrangements and plans for the new council and been able to secure some improvements. We have agreed a new constitution, set a vision and priorities in the Council Plan and agreed a budget. £40m of savings were needed for 2023/24, although some were in the system already, such as Recycle More collections that have increased recycling, and some result from having a single unitary council.

A new staffing structure is being put in place. Redundancies will mostly be from the director tiers, which will give a £3m saving. Other staff transfer into the new council, with interim structures to be followed by new service teams established in coming months.

A lot of work has been undertaken to achieve a smooth transition into the new authority, including to adopt common IT systems in advance and ensure services are ready.

A concern with the new council is that it could be too remote from communities and local needs. Divisions covered by Somerset Councillors are larger than those previously covered by district councillors and the new council has a lot more services.

To strengthen council and community links, 18 Local Community Networks (LCNs) are being established across Somerset. Ours covers Wellington and Wiveliscombe and parishes between, including all those in Upper Tone. LCNs will involve representatives from parish councils, local businesses and community organisations. They will provide a forum for joint working and reporting into Somerset Council. It will be found how well this works in practice, after LCN meetings start this summer.

Signs are the new council should get off to a good start, although, inevitably, it has challenges as well as opportunities ahead.

Key documents for new council

Work is progressing rapidly to establish the new Somerset Council from 1 April 2023, which merges the county council and four district authorities.

The vision, constitution and budget were agreed at a full meeting of the county council on 22 February, with votes on 1,140 pages of reports. These key documents developed as they progressed through committees and consultation over recent months. There were just a few final tweaks, along with questions and comments, at the meeting on the day. Continue reading “Key documents for new council”

REVIEW: 2021/22 into 2023

A very late annual review this year. Elections in May kept me busy. After winning then, I now serve on both the county and district councils. Both are being reorganised to form a single new Somerset Council from April 2023, when Gwil Wren and I will continue as the unitary councillors for Upper Tone.

Below is my look back at council work over the last 12 months or so, and a look forward, with business increasingly dominated by local government reorganisation (again).

Despite the on-going challenges of Covid recovery, Brexit disruption, war in Ukraine with accompanying reductions in energy and food supplies, the ensuing cost of living crisis, and a badly misstepping government, some progress has been made by our councils; while some challenges faced have become worse, not least on budget restrictions and the need for effective action to halt global heating.

Continue reading “REVIEW: 2021/22 into 2023”

Buses update

After the exciting promise of last year’s Bus Service Improvement Plan, the follow-up in 2022 has been disappointing, but there are still grounds for some hope.

Bad news is that bus use is still only 70% of pre-Covid levels, which has reduced revenue and led to timetable cuts by local bus companies in June. There may be further service reductions if current funding support from government ends next March, although timetable changes in June should have allowed for this to some extent and support could be further extended.

Some good news is that the County Council’s bid for government funding was one of only 31 bids to be successful (out of over 70); but instead of the £163m requested, just £12m was awarded.

Problems on route 25

On the 25 service from Dulverton, through Wiveliscombe to Taunton, a double-decker bus was introduced from June, which replaced the two single-deckers previously running for college students in the morning from Wiveliscombe. Initially, the new timetable from June was too late to get Richard Huish College students in on time. Many complaints were made and officers at the county council were helpful. We were successful in requesting that buses left 10 minutes earlier and for a stop at Taunton railway station to be reinstated. I also asked for the new timetables to be displayed at bus stops and for a flag to better mark the new stop outside the railway station.

Unfortunately, service timing was unreliable over the summer, which led to more complaints. When college terms restarted in September, First Bus apologised, after finding that they had scheduled the first bus of the day to leave too late from the depot. Time-keeping has been better since, but the 25 has still run late on some days.

Bus timetables and service complaints

Local and regional bus timetables are available from First Bus, Think Travel (Somerset County Council), and Traveline South West.

First Bus operates a commercial service between Wiveliscombe and Taunton. Problems with their services should be reported online at: If problems persist, complain at: If they persist, let me know and I’ll try to take further. It can help if a record of problems with dates and times is available.

Bus it campaign

To encourage greater bus use, the County Council launched a Bus it! campaign in August. This highlighted savings from buying multi-ticket bundles and making full use of bus passes.

Bus service improvements

Plans to use the government funding for bus service improvements had to be revised and agreed with the Department of Transport. The aim is now to demonstrate bus use can be increased in targeted areas and to then seek more government funding to achieve the same results in other areas.

Most improvements will be in Taunton, which started with new £1 fares for park and rides services and has now extended to other bus services within Taunton. There will also be trials for new weekend and evening services between several large towns and Taunton, but this is not yet proposed for Wiveliscombe.

Most of the funding has to be spent on capital projects, which will include new bus priority lanes and re-establishing the bus station with a mobility hub in Taunton. Work should start next summer and be completed by the end of 2024.

Bridgwater will also benefit from a new bus priority lane and bus priority detection at traffic lights.

There will be a trial to improve rural services in Somerton, with a mobility hub and a digital demand responsive feeder trial involving the Slinky service, which should be in place by Spring 2023.

New Bus and Transport Plans

There was an annual review of Somerset’s Bus Service Improvement Plan by the Places Scrutiny Committee on 11 October (item 9). I supported keeping the same improvement plan in place for now, with changes considered alongside the preparation of a new Local Transport Plan (item 8) over the next 18-24 months.

I also said basics needed to be got right, such as making new bus timetables available, and the County Council needed to look at providing more funding for bus services, which might come from new workplace parking levies (on larger employers) and reconsidering the developer funding used for travel plans, which currently seem to achieve very little.

UPDATED: 5 Dec 2022

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 a few 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.


  • 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.


  • 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 (item minutes) 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.

* UPDATE (6/12/22): Following the retrofit working group report, which the Executive noted and asked officers to consider, a Low Carbon Retrofit Strategy and Delivery Plan for SWT’s council’s housing stock was prepared. After being considered by scrutiny committee and executive, it was adopted by full council and will be taken forward with the new Somerset Council. The retrofit strategy and plan are in line with a zero carbon future. The programme will proceed in stages, cost £135m over 28 years and sets the following targets:

  • 2030 – All SWT homes to achieve EPC C or have an alternative investment option identified.
  • 2040 – Aim to reduce heat demand on average from 135kWh/m2/yr to 50kWh/m2/yr through a ‘fabric first’ approach.
  • 2050 – Replace fossil fuel in SWT homes with electric based heat and power at a pace to ensure affordable energy for tenants and in line with available funds. This does not prevent replacing fossil fuel with electric heat and power immediately where their heat demand is sufficiently low and funding is available.

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”

Broadband progress and plans

Full fibre broadband services and plans for towns and parishes in Upper Tone are continuing to develop. In some areas, ultrafast fibre networks are already provided by Airband, Gigaclear, Openreach or Technological. Full fibre broadband gives the fastest connections of up to 1 Gigabit per second (1,000 Mbps). Details for current networks in our area are given below, along with guidance on requesting a connection or registering your interest to be included as these networks expand.  Continue reading “Broadband progress and plans”

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 –
• BT broadband universal service –
• Gigaclear – (start by entering postcode)
• Openreach –

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”