A303 progress

Back in March, I attended the A303 Summit at the House of Commons. I was there to represent South Somerset and to support David Laws MP. Click here to see the leaflet produced to explain the issues raised and the state of play. If you have views, please make them known to me, to David or to Sam Crabb.

Can you help by doing a Spring Clean?

RSPCA The local branch of the RSPCA would really appreciate your help. They are in urgent need of items for sale at their shop at Street. Although the shop isn’t in Brympton, the funding raised supports critical work done here.

In particular they want clothing for sale and for “ragging”. They can also take small items of furniture and modern, working electrical items. Please have a sort though your wardrobes and houses and tell your friends. The RSPCA can arrange collection within a radius of 20 – 30 miles of Yeovil (phone 07885 295208 or contact them at rspcasomerseteast@hotmail.com).

Without items for sale the local RSPCA will be unable to maintain the high level of animal welfare in this area (something in which you can take some pride).

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.

Did Vince lie to the 2010 Conference ?

Vince's Happy Face

Just after the Election, Dr Cable was made President of the Board of Trade and Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Despite these accolades, there wasn’t much smiling going on.

At the subsequent party conference, he said people had accused him of being grumpy because he wasn’t made Chancellor. He said, “what people don’t realise is … this IS my happy face” (to huge applause).

However, as this recently leaked picture reveals, there are clearly different levels of happiness and his visit to Yeovil in August put a proper smile on his face. Happy days.

Apprenticeship success

One of the successes of the coalition over the last year has been to oversee a massive increase in the number of apprenticeships.  In the first year of the coalition 103,000 extra apprenticeships have been created – twice the number originally planned.  This is not only a positive story generally, but it also helps show the determination of the coalition to turn round the economy and particularly to support the younger unemployed.  You can read more about the story here on the BBC website.

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.