Mendip Matters - 20th May 2022

Knocking on doors and talking with residents is a remarkable privilege and one I very much enjoy. Despite the uninvited interruption, I am almost always pleasantly surprised by the generosity and goodwill most people show. Love you, or hate you, residents seem, at least, to give you credit for caring and for taking the time to ask about their daily lives. It’s through these canvassing conversations, person to person, that you truly learn about people’s thoughts and immediate local concerns. 

During the last few months my Mendip West running partner, Heather Shearer, and I have knocked on well over 3,000 doors as candidates for Somerset County Council, (which will be the new unitary Somerset Council from April 1st, 2023). Sadly we witnessed many coping with difficult family circumstances, listened to thoughtful comments on the challenges we all face. But also shared laughter and insights with countless funny, interesting and delightful people on the doorsteps. It provided us a long to do list and with some incredible memories, and has left us with an overwhelming feeling of respect for Mendip residents.

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Burnham and Highbridge Town Council Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2022

Our two towns contain many communities –there are ones determined by geography e.g.
the Morlands estate, the “Saints”roads; others by age –teenagers, senior citizens; others by
interests –the arts, sport, physical activities; others by income –the comfortably-off, those
who struggle to get by; and many more. These communities interlock so that we all belong
to more than one. The Town Council’s role is to try to serve all of them as well as possible
while recognising that some may need more support than others, and that what is
important to one person or community may not be at all important to another. Inevitably
this will mean that not everyone will agree with everything on which the Town Council
spends money or resources.  Click here for manifesto


New section of the Strawberry Line Opens - Mendip Matters - 11th March

Community involvement or engagement is increasingly cited as a means to delivering a project. And we were reminded of that just last week, at the grand opening of a multi-user path near Wells.

Certainly dozens of volunteers helped with clearing the land to enable preparation work, leading to the construction of the path. Many of those same volunteers lobbied too. They always held the dream of a local pathways network, despite numerous knock-backs for more than 20 years.

The Dulcote path, or to give it its correct description, the multi-user path known as ‘The Strawberry Line’, is the section from the existing path from outside Morrisons in Wells to Dulcote village, and then on to Charlie Bigham’s kitchen in the quarry.

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Glastonbury Town Deal - Mendip Matters - 1st March 2022

I was delighted to attend the Glastonbury Town Deal Open Day last week. Held in the ever-elegant town hall, the event showcased the 12 local projects set to benefit from £23.6 million in Government funding.

The enthusiasm and ambition of the individuals involved was palpable. Everyone was clearly convinced this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Two years after the first pandemic lockdown, economic growth has never been more important - and they are going to make the most of it!

This is Glastonbury, so you’d expect an innovative, forward-looking approach to regeneration, with both eyes on the environment and how we live, work and travel. It was fascinating to see the projects set out together, and how they all interlinked.

The majority are in the industrial Beckery area, first transformed by the monks of Glastonbury Abbey who made such a difference to the Somerset Moors with their drainage schemes and use of the Mill Stream.

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The Digital Divide - Mendip Matters - 24th February

The digital divide became even more apparent during the pandemic. And as you’d expect, our local communities and individuals responded.

A good example of this is the Donate IT scheme to recycle laptops and reissue them free to those who needed digital access.

The initiative was set up by Axbridge Town Council and local councillor Ben Ferguson. It includes a dedicated recycling point and has support from local firm Blackmore Ricotech, who provide free professional data wiping.  

Residents can with confidence hand-in their old and unused IT equipment knowing it will be used for a good cause - and have the extra, added bonus of knowing they are helping our environment!

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Mendip: transparent, prudent, and innovative - Mendip Matters - 17th February2022

Stories about the eye-watering amounts of fraud involved in the issuing of public money during the Covid crisis, continue to dominate news headlines. The weekend’s papers were once again full of examples. Much is rightly being made about the scale of fraud that’s been identified during these unprecedented times.

Treasury Minister, Lord Agnew, who had served in post since February 2020, drove home the point in the House of Commons - before promptly resigning. Little wonder he felt compelled to stand down. The sums of money involved here are staggering.

More than £47 billion was given to small businesses under the government's largest coronavirus scheme - the bounce back loan scheme (BBLS) – aimed at helping those companies most at risk during the pandemic. The National Audit Office has since estimated that as much as £5 billion of this support money could have been claimed fraudulently … and it’s been written-off.

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Cost of Living Concerns - Mendip Matters - 10th February2022

I am acutely aware of the cost-of-living concerns residents, communities and businesses in Mendip are feeling at the moment.

We’ve all seen a rise in our energy prices, food and petrol. National insurance is set to increase, mortgage rates are up. Inflation is the highest it’s been for 30 years. And Council Tax bills will land on doormats next month.
Despite the picture-postcard portrayal of Mendip as a go-to destination, I know there are pockets of real, rural deprivation in our district. The demand on food banks in our area demonstrates this.
Other help is also out there, and I sincerely hope that most people know they can turn to their District Council - and trusted partners, such as Citizens Advice Mendip - in times of financial trouble.
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Mendip's Homelessness Prevention - Mendip Matters - 3rd Feb 2022

There seems to be a whole industry collecting and supplying data in this country. My time at NHS Taunton/Musgrove Park Hospital, and now at Mendip District Council, has really bought that home. But if you want to inform decisions – or you want decisions to be better informed – you need facts and figures. Data can add to our policy development, measure progress and highlight issues that deserve attention.

You’ll find plenty of data in Mendip’s quarterly performance report, contained in our Cabinet papers. Some figures I would like to highlight concern our rough sleeping statistics, and the number in temporary accommodation, such as bed and breakfasts.

Every year, around 1,600 households present to Mendip District Council with a housing issue and just under half are homeless or at risk of homelessness. It’s common knowledge that housing need outstrips supply. Rents are going up more quickly than the housing costs element of benefits – this means options can be very limited.

Homelessness prevention and early intervention are key, as is partnership working with other councils, agencies and organisations. It's about empowering people to remain in their home for the long term, or at least remain there until a planned move is made. 

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Affordable Housing is a Serious Issue - Mendip Matters - 26th January

With local property prices rising, limited new housing, and a low wage economy, affordable housing is a serious issue facing communities, and in particular, our young people.

But the term ‘affordable housing’  is a much-used one, and means different things to different people.

In planning terms, for example, it means; a range of affordability from 80% of market price, shared ownership with a registered provider (Housing Association), to housing for social rent (based on a national formula and local wage rates).

Many councils, including Mendip, have a policy in their Local Plan about the number and type of affordable housing offers there must be on new housing developments over 10 homes. Mendip’s planning policy DP11 clearly states the principle of 30% affordable housing, with 4 out of  5 of the 30% for social rent. There are exceptions, with the figure rising to 40% in Wells and in rural areas.

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Tides are changing! - Mendip Matters- 20th January 2022

The thought and sight of raw sewage being pumped into our rivers rightly horrifies us. And yet in our beautiful district there are many such incidents recorded each and every year.

What I didn’t realise until recently is that these scandalous incidents can be readily reduced, if not prevented altogether!

Up until the 1960s, surface water, including run-off from roofs, drives and roads, was combined with sewage in our drains. So when there was heavy rain, the combined sewage system (surface water plus sewage water) would overwhelm the storage tanks and so make it necessary to discharge the flow directly into the rivers.

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