Stronger Somerset Update

The Leaders of Somerset’s four District Councils have written to Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, in the wake of the Local Poll which showed overwhelming support for Stronger Somerset from residents in the county.

The letter can be viewed here.

In the letter, the Leaders confirm that the districts have a transition team ready to engage with Government officials on the next stages towards implementation.

In the recent Local Poll, 65.3% voted for two unitaries delivering services close to the communities of Eastern and Western Somerset. Just 34.7% supported a proposal for a single unitary with a turnout of more than 111,000.

The Leaders state: “There is a crystal-clear majority for two unitary authorities, not one. And this is the third time the Somerset public have rejected a County Council single unitary; In the 2007 referendum where 82% opposed a single unitary council, in the Ipsos MORI poll late last year where a single unitary was the last option people wanted, and now in the recent referendum. These results are not anomalies. There is consistent, longstanding and deeply felt opposition to a County Council unitary expressed several times over many years. Each time the people of Somerset are asked they repeat exactly the same answer.

“Our judgement is that it is vital to the credibility of the decision-making process and to the delivery of the Government’s goal of ‘levelling up’ that you now declare Stronger Somerset the preferred option.”

Additionally, a week on from victory in the Local Poll, the Leaders of Somerset West and Taunton Council and Sedgemoor District Council met to discuss next steps in the establishment of a new Western Somerset unitary council.

Stronger Somerset, the plan for two councils, Western Somerset and Eastern Somerset, to replace Somerset’s existing five county and district councils, was the overwhelming choice of local residents in the poll, winning 65% of the vote.

While the Council Leaders now await the decision of the Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, they know they must begin making arrangements to ensure a smooth transition.

This will involve closer working together as two district councils and joint working with the county council.

“We are working to have the new councils up and running in April 2023,” said Cllr Duncan McGinty, Leader of Sedgemoor District Council. “While that might seem a long way off, there is an awful lot of work to do before then and we have to get cracking.”

“We will need an agreed implementation plan in just a few months’ time, so there is no time to waste,” said Cllr Federica Smith-Roberts, Leader of Somerset West and Taunton Council. “We invite our colleagues from the county council to now join us in this important work.”

The decision of the Local Government Secretary on the future of local government in Somerset is due before the summer Parliamentary recess on 22 July. It is expected that the Stronger Somerset proposal will be the future if he listens to the people’s verdict.

Parish Council Notes

Notes from the May meeting

Richard Culverhouse was appointed chairman and Roy Atkins Vice Chairman for the year 2021-22

Kevin Hewson volunteered to be the Council’s representative on the Hinkley Point B Site Stakeholder Group

Maintenance of Council Land:

The provision of a handrail on the steps leading north from the railway embankment would now proceed. Quotes to undertake a first tidy up on the former railway embankment and Shaws Orchard have now been received. and it is anticipated that some initial work will soon be able to proceed. Further work will be taken once the nesting season has been completed.

We are now seeking quotations for the provision of fencing on the north and south sides of the embankment and the railway steps on the Village side of the embankment.

Other volunteers will be sought to undertake an ongoing maintenance team.

Speeding Issues:

An order has now been placed with Somerset County Council to provide the post for the mounting a speed indicator device (SID) on the A39 road near the Knowle Inn. Similarly, the quotation for the SID has been approved. The device will be solar powered and measure speed in both directions providing useful statistical information.

Annual Village Tidy-up:

The Annual tidy up told place as planned on Saturday, 24th April. The Chairman thanked those who came as well as the Environment Agency who provided assistance. It was good to see that the school children had taken part having tidied the churchyard

Financial Matters

A number of Annual returns relating to the Accounts for 2020-21 were approved. These will be published on the village website in due course

Roads and Footpaths

The contractors for County Highways were congratulated on the way the tree works and road patching work was undertaken.

Date of next Meeting

Tuesday, 1st June 2021 at 7.30 pm.

April Parish Council Notes

Notes on the April meeting

Somerset Climate Emergency Community Fund

The grant applications were unsuccessful

so the purchase of a Speed Indicating Device to be deployed on the A39 would now proceed and Somerset County Council would instal a post for it to be mounted on.

The provision of handrail on the steps leading north from the railway embankment would also proceed

Other elements included in the applications and general maintenance responsibilities would be discussed at a future meeting to decide on a suitable way forward. 

Maintenance of Council Land Quotes to undertake a first tidy up on the former railway embankment and Shaws Orchard are being sought. Children  have been reported playing on the railway embankment. This is likely to continue and we will now consider the provision of fencing and signage. The extent of ongoing maintenance will take into account the advice contained in the report by Dr Chris Smith.

Other volunteers will be recruited who will be encouraged to form an action plan and recommendation regarding the issues raised and ongoing maintenance.

Local Government Reform in Somerset.

Two options were under consideration to replace the existing County and four District Councils. A single unitary authority (favoured by SCC and known as One Somerset) or two unitary authorities (preferred by the District Councils known as Stronger Somerset). 

After a discussion there was agreement that the Parish Council supported the Stronger Somerset proposal and would respond to the consultation accordingly. Residents were encouraged to make their views known though the consultation process.

Roads and Footpaths

Village Green – Grass Cutting.

The Chairman reported that Mr Crane who had cut the grass for many years was now unable to continue and that Mr Houselander had volunteered to take on the role.  Thanks were expressed to Mr Crane for his service over many years and to Mr Houselander for offering to mow the area.

Bus Shelter – Bath Road/Bradney Lane

The Chairman mentioned that following a comment about the cleanliness of the bus shelter, a couple of public-spirited residents (who wished to remain anonymous) had given the structure a wash-down.

Annual Village Tidy-up.

There was agreement that the event would be held on Saturday, 24th April. The Chairman would approach the Environment Agency to see if they, as on previous occasions, would be able to provide assistance.  The Clerk agreed to contact SDC to ask if the usual equipment could be provided. Social distancing would be observed.  

Date of next Meeting

Tuesday, 4th May 2021 at 7.30 pm.