YTFC Yellow lines a success, pushing for more

IMG_0274A big team effort by councillors at Parish, District and County level has finally prevailed and we were able to secure proper enforceable parking restrictions that now mean the local roads function better during football matches. Buses run, traffic flows and children can see and be seen at junctions.

Unfortunately some visiting fans still seem willing to “fling the car down and pay a fine” (it’s only £2 to park at YTFC guys, why not help the club?). There is also a little misapprehension regarding “waiting” by parents during the school run, but things are generally better.

We still have major problems with residential access through Thorne Lane/Balls Hill. These will be properly resolved by the new junction at Western Avenue (2016?), but SSDC is doing some things with verges/hedges which we hope will help temporarily.

At last, a new play area at Larkhill

IMG_0287Four years ago, John and I started a campaign to get the play facilities between King Arthur Drive and Merlin Close upgraded . The old area was in poor repair, but a worse problem was that it had very little “play value” for local children and it was starting to attract anti-social behaviour. Over the last few years we have been working with a local housing association and Preston Academy to get the design right.

We’re really pleased that the new area has now been completed. It has challenging play elements for all ages (as you see!) including a zip wire, role play, climbing, rope swings and lots of toddlers features. We have also managed to get some funding to improve the football pitch drainage, however the grass is going to take a little time to get right, simply because of the heavy use!

The new area should be opening on 11th April and will be formally named then.


We’ve set the 2013/14 Council Tax

Capture 2013-14 Tax Rates


Last Friday (1st March) I had the honour of chairing the Council Tax Setting Committee of South Somerset District Council. This doesn’t happen often (indeed ever), but the Police were so late setting their budget that it wasn’t available at the normal Council Meeting. Hence my sitting on a sub-committee with 5 colleagues (in political balance, of course).

As you see, Brympton’s precept was among the lowest. Indeed most parishes went for an increase in tax. Various good reasons, but this is probably the last uncapped year for parishes and I worry we may have missed out – Lufton’s new village hall won’t build itself and it would be better, in my view, to spread the cost collecting over many years rather than borrowing.

The trouble with a low precept is the taxpayer ends up paying for paperwork instead of projects. Ah well.

2013/14 Council Tax levels


I’ve just been doing some hunting round to work up a comparison of the Somerset districts basic Council Tax. The graph below includes the very significant County Council tax, the Police precept, the Fire and Rescue Service Precept and each District’s own Council Tax element. It does not include the local Parish or Town Council precept, which can vary widely.
Council Tax comparison

Those of you with very acute eyesight will detect that South Somerset does actually have a very, very slightly higher tax level For a Band D property it’s £9.46 a year or 0.6% higher than Mendip, equivalent to 18p a week. I hope that’s not enough to make anyone want to move there!

Working hard for Yeovil, using all means possible

I thought you might be interested in reading the response from DCLG which I received recently, especially once you know the back-story.

We had noticed that the business rates charged on retail units in Yeovil town centre were high, and very much higher than Peel Retail Park (just off the A30 towards Sherborne). This huge annual cost is putting businesses off moving to Yeovil. As an example this chart shows the current valuation for Vicarage Walk (the Quedam). I’ve deliberately hidden the specifics as this is highly commercially sensitive but, yes, one business actually pays more than £200,000 every year in property taxes !! (Not to SSDC, I hasten to add. We just collect it for the exchequer).

The way these are set is “odd” with different parts of the shop charged at different rates. For example, some parts of a large, well-established outlet are charged at £9,000 per square metre !!! Remember that it’s the larger unit which might be attractive to the national chains stores that shoppers want to see in the town centre.

Vicarage Walk Business Rates

The last review in 2010 was based on rental values from 2008 when rents were arguably at their peak, particularly true for the Quedam Centre. Since that time, premises left empty by failed businesses and movement to out of town sites has resulted in many larger units with high rateable values being almost impossible to re-let. Worse, the managers operating the property portfolio are given bonuses according to the value (or nominal rent) of the property, not the actual rent collected. That means it’s in their interests to keep pushing business costs up.

The Government’s announcement postponing the 2015 business rates revaluation until 2017 is incredibly bad news for Yeovil Town Centre. Although clearly there will be winners and losers, on balance the declining rental values in the high street  means that businesses in these locations will now be paying the current level of business rates, based on unrealistic rent levels,  for another four years.

In the light of all this, I spoke to Danny Alexander MP and to Don Foster MP earlier this year, asking them to take another look at the mechanism of setting rates from rents, if the latter were being inflated by managers. I also asked them to look at the “cliff edge” effect whereby in a small-medium town, out-of-town rates on large retail units were set so much lower than the High Street. The enquiry was passed on straight away, one of the advantages of talking directly to ministers.

The response seems to miss the point completely. As you will see, the Treasury feels it has done enough. Some specific relief for new-build shops and for hardship or last-man-standing businesses. I will keep at this but nothing good yet.


South Somerset fly-tipping figures fall

Fly-tipping figures released today [15 October 2013] by the government show incidents county-wide have dropped by 497 or 8.7% from 5,687 to 5,190.

South Somerset’s fall has carried on into the first three months of this financial year, down by 114 to 338 on the same period last year, and down by 94 on January-March 2013. All Somerset districts saw improved figures in 2012/13; as well as South Somerset, Mendip was down 73 to 1,631, Sedgemoor down 306 to 1,161, Taunton Deane down 42 to 646, and West Somerset down 71 to 93.

The improvements were first reported to the Somerset Waste Board four months ago in June, and follows a path previously predicted by board chairman Cllr Derek Yeomans. The fall has coincided with greater efforts to deter fly-tippers, through new equipment, warning signs and further training for district enforcement officers, backed by Somerset County Council.

South Somerset and other councils are moving to reduce the fly-tipping “supply” by urging residents and businesses to check if those removing rubbish – such as builders – have the correct waste carrier’s licence. Councillor Jo Roundell Greene, Portfolio Holder for Environment and Economic Development said, “Building on this good news, this district will continue to fight fly-tipping, with our enforcement staff leading the way in tackling this crime. You can play a vital role by reporting suspicious activity and giving evidence, as this remains a tough crime to deter or prosecute. We must ensure that our countryside is kept looking beautiful. One thing we can all do is to ensure our own household or business rubbish is not fly-tipped; just ask anyone taking it away – builders, gardeners and other tradespeople – for their waste carrier licence.”

Clearing up Somerset’s fly-tipping costs South Somerset and the other district councils a total of around £150,000 a year, with the County Council contributing about £36,000 in 2012/13.

Have we turned the tide?

Capture copyEnglish Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are predicting greater investment according to the latest Manufacturing Advisory Service (MAS) Barometer. Half (50%) of the 682 companies questioned expect to spend more on new machinery and premises over the next six months.

“This sense of optimism is also present when it comes to employing new staff. 43% of SMEs (up 3% on the last report) are planning to hire new people with a further 50% expecting to keep workforce levels the same.” said David Caddle, spokesman for the Manufacturing Advisory Service.

Food recycled for cooking … and lighting

Gas generation starts at Walpole Digester


CaptureDeliveries of food waste to the anaerobic digester commenced on 20th August as part of the commissioning process. The amount of food waste will be increased gradually over the commissioning period until the point where all food waste arisings collected by SWP from the county will be received.

The plant is already producing gas in low quantities. The first of the gas engines is being installed and will be able to commence electricity production once the volume of food input and gas output have increased sufficiently over the coming weeks. The commissioning period is expected to last 3-6 months.

For more details of the plant click here

Oak may be saved.

CaptureI have now met with Phil Poulton, the SSDC Tree Officer. The storm damage to the Oak in Oak Tree Park is obviously very severe, with the main crown of the tree failing and taking off all of the lower branches on one side. It was very unbalanced and a further, lower limb has failed since it was fenced off.

Despite this, Phil recommends that we see if the tree can be saved. Oaks are quite good at regenerating and, although this one has few obvious buds, it’s worth taking a couple of years to find out. The suggestion is to stabilise the tree structure by using storm replication/retrenchment pruning techniques. This involves reducing the length of the remaining limbs (to reduce wind loading and to compensate for the loss of “mechanical damping”). Hopefully, in time the tree to produce new growth. This level of emergency work maybe possible without a TPO application.

We took a wider look around and the Oak in the play area also needs some work (it’s much weakened by fungus), so a TPO application to allow further retrenchment might be prudent.

The lightning-damaged Oak which sits on the green between Forde Park and Muchelney Way appears to have Meripilus giganteous at the base. That’s a very nasty fungus which eats away the very big structural roots – no need to do anything hasty but a TPO application to do a second crown reduction may be needed (Phil saved this tree when it was split in two and it has recovered to a nice shape, hopefully the same will happen again).