Yeovil Urban Extension – Site Visit

By now, everyone will have realised that an american poet’s ashes are in the church of St Michael and All Saints and that John Craven can see Yeovil from the top of the church tower.

Those with a deeper interest in the evidence will know that within the next 20 years, Yeovil will have to grow beyond its current boundaries if our children and grand-children are to have homes to live in. Fortunately, we live in some of the finest countryside in England, surrounded by fantastic heritage and served by a fragile road system. Unfortunately that makes growth without pain impossible. Councillors are faced with the difficult decision of choosing a “least worst” option.

Cllr Oakes within the southern option site

On Tuesday 8th November a number of councillors carried out a site visit to areas within the two growth directions still being considered, south/southwest and northwest.

Whilst there are maps being published by campaigners showing more specific detail, ignore them. Most are fakes or older working drafts and all are irrelevant. Only the broad direction has to be decided now, the draft maps were produced to prove to Councillors (and the Planning Inspector) that these directions are viable options. The actual form of any growth will be decided by locals, much later in the planning process.

Councillors at Windmill Lane, Montacute

The visit involved travelling around the edges of the two areas being considered and also looking at them from key vantage points such as the ridge south of the Cokers and Ham Hill Country Park.

We also walked out into the sites to look at the lay of the land, its current uses and its relationship with neighbouring areas.
One of the many difficulties with any growth near Yeovil is the loss of agricultural land, the settings of the many historic sites, listed buildings and conservation areas. To be fair, this is true throughout South Somerset, we have 4,650 listed structures, 87 Conservation areas and 17 Historic Gardens! Click here to find out more.

Part of the North-West option

Many other factors have to be taken into account, including the effect on the road system in and around Yeovil and the effect on the A303, which is strategically important to the South-West peninsular. Transport choices will be particularly important in reducing congestion and in a world where oil and energy costs are rising.

Back in 2009, I initiated a study into whether the Urban Extension could be made to eco-town standards. Early indications are that this has a critical benefit in reducing the traffic throughout the rest of the town. It also means that fully 40% of any urban extension will be green-space, allowing high levels of protection to be provided for neighbouring areas, as well as securing quality in the new homes and employment.

On critical thing we must do is to ensure that all of the required infrastructure is delivered in a timely fashion and not piecemeal. Things like bin lorries and GP surgeries don’t just happen, someone has to pay. More studies have been started and we have decided to allow more time to complete those, putting the final decision on direction back into spring.

As you can probably tell from the serious faces in the pictures above, this will be a very difficult decision … but we will do our best.

We need a new Play Area!

The “Larkhill Open Space” is well used but the project is far from complete. I sometimes call it “shoestring park”, which seems to get more and more appropriate the way budgets are going.

Discussing the decaying infants play equipment with John

Back in 2005, the public consultation slated the small children’s play area off Akeman Close after much anti-social behaviour. It was removed.

If you look at the Parish notice board (by the lower bridge), you’ll see that the King Arthur Drive play area was then identified as needing to grow to cover all ages and the extra load from Percivale, etc.

The old "multi-play" unit

Although the KAD play area is heavily used, it provides fairly poor quality play – at times it’s little more than somewhere to “hang out”. Part of the problem is the equipment which is to an older design and in places, decaying. There also isn’t much variety and the area is having to cope with about three times the number of people it was designed for.

Although the adjoining woods provide some excellent “free play”, that is only really attractive for certain ages and only in spring/summer.

The kick-about area is kept fairly tidy but the surface slopes unevenly (it is the top of an old landfill which has settled over the years). It would be nice to improve the grass surface.

During the recent election campaign we heard a lot “on the doorstep” about anti-social behaviour in the Larkhill area, often reporting “bored youths and older children”. Of course, very little of this gets reported through formal systems, perhaps because people don’t like to bother the Police.

Getting the local perspective

John and I have been speaking to local residents to get their views. What we’re hoping to do at this stage is to arrange a detailed consultation later this year, with a view to refurbishment early next year. Of course, everything about the LOSP project is done in conjunction with Brympton Parish Council, who are a key funding partner and who normally take the lead on consultation. We all need to make sure that whatever is done is going to deliver attractive play without becoming a problem for neighbours.

All we have to do now is find the funding …

After the Election Part 2 – the way forward

Thursday 19th May saw the first meeting of South Somerset District Council.

We chose Ric Pallister to be Leader of the Council and he has made me a Cabinet member with the “Regulatory and Democratic Services” portfolio to look after. (The SSDC Press Release can be seen here and the full list of appointments is here).

John Richardson, your other Ward Councillor, was elected to the important Audit Committee. This committee makes sure that taxpayers money is spent wisely and that it is all accounted properly.

Of course, for both of us these are distractions from our primary task, which is to ensure that Brympton residents are looked after and that their voice is heard. That is the real honour, being elected as Brympton’s representatives.

A better (low carbon) future for Yeovil

A couple of years ago, I was interviewed by BBC Radio. We started recording outside on the cycle path which was once the bed of a Victorian high-speed rail link – Yeovil’s always been a town of leadership in technology. Travel one way and the path takes you to Pittards with it’s specialist leathers. The other direction takes you past AgustaWestland, Boeing and BAE Systems to Screwfix, Silverline and many other leading companies, yet sat here, in the middle of town, is Foundry House.

We went inside because the BBC likes its interviews to have “ambience”. Walking on crushed glass and echoing our way through the empty ground floor, I explained that the building had been listed after a public campaign to save this iconic glove factory. That had constrained the Council’s plan for regenerating the town centre but we had still found a way to launch work, in the depths of a recession. We had persuaded the Department for Communities and Local Government that we could create a town centre regeneration project, centred on a listed building and achieving the very highest standards of energy efficiency. In turn, they had agreed to grant-aid the project provided we threw the doors open and showed the world how it was to be done.

The development has been scaled back slightly … it turned out the Minister didn’t actually have the money to give away! It also turned out that the site was a contamination nightmare and so we ended up without affordable housing in this phase. Nonetheless, The Glove Factory remains a bold statement, a success when others are failing. Hopefully entrepreneurs will see that Yeovil has heart and confidence … and bring their business investment here.

The Election results here in Brympton

I am pleased to say that after a tough campaign, John and I remain your District Councillors.

Now that we know the full story, it’s clear we were right to be worried. A very effective campaign led by Graham Pritchard (who also enjoyed a very strong personal following in the ballot) meant that part way through the day we were neck-and-neck and Brympton’s two seats meant that control of the Council was in serious doubt.

In the late afternoon, both sides went all out to find their missing voters and some people (especially neighbours and friends) had a very unexpected late evening knock on the door. I even met Veronica doing my own street.

The response we got to the “knock-up” was brilliant and the last, crucial 133 votes were all cast in the last hour, with the very last voter arriving at 9:58 pm!

The results are:

  1. Peter Seib, 1123 votes
  2. John Richardson, 925 votes
  3. Graham Pritchard, 792 votes
  4. Veronica Venables, 702 votes

With good weather and both parties trying hard, turnout was a full 8% of the electorate up on the 2007 election.

John and I would particularly like to thank all those kind people who took a moment to say a friendly word on the doorstep, or at the Polling Station after casting their vote. “Feel-good” moments are rare in politics and those personal thanks are the best of the best.

The SSDC elections have, happily, resulted in no change in political control.

  • Liberal Democrat seats – 31 – (loss of 6 seats.)
  • Conservative Party seats – 25 – (gain of 8 seats.)
  • Independent seats – 4 – (loss of 2 seats.)

Key here in Yeovil is the loss of two seats in Yeovil South (due to the vote being split with Labour and the Green Party) and one in the Cokers (under an unwarranted fear of development). For the first time in a while, there will be three Conservatives on SSDC’s Area South Committee. My main fear is that the collaborative, cross-bench working which South Somerset is famous for may be the price we pay for this power struggle.

Other than that we had a fairly robust result and South Somerset DC remains the blob of orange on the UK local government map.

The results for the 39 district wards, showing the number of votes given to each candidate and who was elected for each ward, are on SSDC’s Local elections results page. The district turnout was 47.66%.

John and I will now move on to deliver our pledges and to serve all of you to the best of our ability.

Peter Seib, 6th May 2011

Into Somerset and the Paragon Story

Last year, I went to Ross-on-Wye to persuade the family running Paragon Laundry to invest here, in Brympton. I believe that creating employment opportunities is an important thing for local authorities to do, whether it’s by allocating land, promoting the area, building industrial estates or, as in this case, lobbying. Letting entrepreneurs create jobs relieves the misery of unemployment and drives the economy forward.

Throughout the downturn, I made sure that SSDC was supporting start-ups and helping existing business to grow … but these are both slow ways to create new jobs so we set up Into Somerset to find successful businesses like Paragon wanting to re-locate. Into Somerset is an “inward investment” partnership set up between all the councils in Somerset. It promotes Somerset to business leaders wanting to re-locate.

Paragon will start operating in Yeovil this summer with around 80 jobs including operators, engineers, drivers, sales staff and management. With a capacity of up to 600,000 items a week, the laundry will initially service hotels from Peignton to Pool and from Bristol to Andover. Next year the second phase will bring more capacity introducing their prestige brands to service “boutique” hotels. Eventually, the operation could see as many as 200 people here in Yeovil, and possibly spin-off businesses in the immediate area.

… and yes, I did claim the mileage!