This week, voters across Somerset will get the chance to choose the option for change they would
prefer to see for local councils.
Kicked off during a pandemic at the insistence of the Leader of Somerset County Council, his
reorganisation plan proposes one council, delivering every single service, stretching from Minehead
to Frome. A single council which would take control of powers and services currently delivered
locally, in our own communities.
Following the local, mayoral and Police & Crime commissioner elections last Thursday across the country, there will be a chance for the people of Somerset to make their voices heard in the coming weeks.
In the next few days, you will receive a pack in the post asking for your views on how councils work across our county.
For many people, the differing levels of government can be confusing – what does a parish council do, compared to a district or county council? Who is charge of collecting your rubbish and who funds the schools or roads? In reality, most of these services are delivered by local councils, though it isn’t always easy to work out which one.
When this column goes to print on Thursday, it will be election day for much of the UK. For voters in Mendip, we are choosing a new Police & Crime Commissioner for Avon & Somerset, and many other areas will go about electing local councillors and mayors. Election campaigns, and the moment when you finally put a cross in a box highlight our democratic rights, to have our say and play our part in how we are governed.
I don’t think we should ever take our democracy and right to vote for granted. My grandmother was a suffragette. She joined a movement of people who fought for equal voting rights between men and women, something eventually granted in the UK in 1928 with the Equal Franchise Act. Elsewhere in the world, people are still unable to vote, or face grave risks by simply turning up at a polling station.
Over the past five weeks I’ve been covering our five distinct towns within Mendip. This week, I wanted to focus on our area’s rural communities. Mendip is, after all, a largely rural district, and 4 in 10 of us live in villages, small hamlets and nestled in the countryside off the beaten track.
However, while the advent of home working might increase the influx of newcomers to our villages, rural life isn’t without its challenges.
The final leg of my tour of the Mendip towns brings me to our cathedral city of Wells. With its population of just 12,000 it is often cited as being the smallest city in England, although technically the City of London with fewer than 9,000 residents is smaller in terms of population and geographical size.
The city status was granted thanks to the presence of what has been described as “the most poetic of the English Cathedrals” by Alec Clifton-Taylor OBE, an architectural historian, writer and TV broadcaster. The cathedral which dates back to 900AD, was accidentally built on marshy ground, hence the brilliant architectural device of its famous scissor arches to stop the walls caving in. Its world-famous choirs have been singing in the cathedral for more than 1,000 years. They feature regularly on BBC broadcasts and in concerts around the world.
As I continue with my tour of the towns, this week I am going to talk about a Mendip town which is regularly featured in the national press. It was cited as being one of the best places to live outside of London by The Times a few years back, and named ‘most stylish place to live in the UK’ by glossy magazine Harpers Bazaar!
You’ve guessed it – Frome, the biggest of our five Mendip settlements with a population of over 26,000. In terms of getting to and from, and around Frome, it has some great transport links – including train links to London, and e-bike hire to help cyclists with the hills of Frome! We are really happy to be supporting the further ‘electrification’ of Frome by installing electric vehicle charging points in our Mendip-owned carparks in Frome later on this year.
It’s hard to imagine that large areas of Somerset were once covered in water – most of the Somerset moors are below sea level, hence why they are so prone to flooding. It wasn’t until Dutch engineers drained the levels back in the 17th century that we were able to farm the land as we do today.
Go back even further – some 200 million years – and it’s even harder to imagine a prehistoric dolphin-like reptile swimming in the waters close to where we now live.
You may have guessed that I am focussing on Street in this week’s column – a village well known around the world for the quality and sheer number of fossilised Icthyosaurs found nearby.
This week I am dedicating the column to Shepton Mallet. In many ways the town is in the process of a successful transformation. The centre is in the midst of major resurfacing works and the Town Council is leading on a rebranding and updating of town signage. Even its own logo has changed which now includes the Glastonbury Festival Pyramid, which of course is just on Shepton’s doorstep.
The town is looking forward to the reopening of the lively Art Bank and Shepton’s increasingly vibrant artisan shops and cafés. The Library has been saved in its town centre site and is about to go through an extensive remodelling. During the construction works at the Market Cross and Town Street, Mendip’s Friday Market has moved until the summer to a temporary home in Great Ostry Car Park. The next market will be held this Good Friday.
We are lucky in Mendip to have five distinct settlements – Wells, the smallest city in England, the village of Street, and three very different towns of Glastonbury, Frome and Shepton Mallet.
In this week’s column I wanted to focus on Glastonbury, known worldwide of course for ‘the’ festival, which will hopefully be returning next year after two fallow years.
Aside from the festival, Glastonbury is such a magical place, steeped in history, myths and legends. Its independent shops on the high street are like no others and in happier times its pubs and venues are filled with live music and dancing.
You may know that on May 6th in Mendip you will be able to vote for who represents you as Avon and Somerset Police and Crime Commissioner, or PCC. There will be some local bi-elections taking place too.
The PCC oversees your local police force, so voting is important to make sure the representative prioritises the things that matter to you. You can find out more here: www.avonpccelection.org.uk.
Over the past few days, the issues of policing and safety on our streets have been thrust into the limelight. We have all been saddened and shocked by the disappearance and death of Sarah Everard in London, and no doubt many of you have been following the subsequent debates on media channels around the police handling of the vigil this past weekend.