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.