Tuesday, 21 October 2014

The missing parts of the jigsaw

A fact that should have been reported
As reported in the Western Gazette, a ‘Transformation’ exhibition organised by Somerset Contemporary Artists Network was held in Somerton Old Town Hall from 25th September 2014, affording the general public the first opportunity to see the Hall in its intended new role as a community arts centre once finance from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) had been obtained so that the Somerton Historic Buildings Preservation Trust could buy and restore the building for community use with arts and crafts facilities and with a commercial art gallery’, the building is currently owned by the Stepping Stones Group of which Mr John Bailey is a director. 
An important element was missing from the Gazette report – we must assume that at the time they were unaware – was that the Trust’s application for HLF funding had already been turned down by the HLF’s South-West Committee a couple of weeks previously.  The grounds for rejection were that the application did not meet the HLF’s criteria for funding and that the Trust should not re-submit their application unless they could seriously address the issues that let them down, citing amongst other things lack of clear detail about activity planning, lack of a specific budget and unrealistic timetables.  This rather flies in the teeth of the Trust’s claim in its Position Paper of 13th Jan 2014 that ‘the plans met all the criteria that the HLF required’.  Clearly they did not.
A further and very important criticism by the HLF was that much of the activities would ‘be delivered by partners’, meaning the purely commercial functions of the art gallery.  And that brings us to……..
Those mysterious partners
We have been told by the Trust that the rent paid by an anchor tenant occupying part of the Hall would cover running costs and that extraordinary expenses would be met ‘by further appeals’, which rather negates the whole aspiration of turning the Hall into a Somerton asset ‘at no cost to the community’.  This also strongly suggests that no analysis of likely ongoing costs have been carried out, perhaps by studying data deriving from similar projects.
However, to return to the partner issue, the Trust’s Position Paper states that a couple of potential anchor tenants had been identified and later says that John Bailey introduced the Trust to an additional potential anchor tenant who was keen to use the Hall as a prestigious art gallery. The Gazette reported on 23rd September 2014 that the planned art gallery, workshops and ‘artist in residence programme’ would be run by a body calling itself SomArton.  And this is where it gets really interesting!
SomArton is a limited company that was incorporated on 29th April 2013, long before the Position Paper was written.  The company has a registered office in Bridgwater and a head office at No5 West Street in Somerton, the old Longmire’s off licence.  One of the directors is Mr Hugh Martin, a ceramic artist, while the other is none other than Mr John Bailey.  This could lead one to suspect that the Trust is passing the hat round in order that they can buy the Hall from Mr Bailey so that Mr Bailey can run a business in it, which all sounds highly incestuous and a far cry from the earlier, noble aspirations of providing a facility for the community.  This may not be and hopefully is not the case but given the yawning gap between the hype and the current reportage, a certain cynicism is understandable.
The missing masterpiece
It had been widely anticipated that a really avant garde piece would be on display at the Transformation Exhibition.  Unfortunately it did not appear but we are reliably informed by those who did see it privately that the work consisted of a dining room carpet covered in swirling patterns created by having hot globs of sizzling candle wax splattered all over it completely at random.  It is a great shame that the public were denied the opportunity to see this masterpiece created, we are told, by a lady not previously known for her artistic leanings.  We still do not know for certain why she did not attend but have heard that she was either suffering from a monumental hangover or working hard on her next one.

Monday, 15 September 2014

The Viaduct issue

I have been approached to bring to light the backlash against the post of councilor Barrie Davies in the recent Viaduct publication. The letter to the Viaduct from the well respected Pat Mountain reads as follows:

Dear Editor(s),

It has taken me some time to decide how to respond to the front page article in the September Viaduct, written by Barrie Davis. He did so under the aegis of the Town Council Vice Chairman, but apparently without the consent or knowledge of the Chairman or of his fellow councilors.  I and many others are disturbed at the inferences that may be drawn from his words.

 All of us agree with his comments about the loss of the estimable Eirian Williams, who was the most excellent Chairman of the Town Council and a wonderfully active member of our community. He is greatly missed.

It is felt, however, that the way in which Mr Davis has chosen to plead with us all to cease using the Council ' as a feuding ground' is, we strongly suspect, because he would like to have a quiet life during his remaining term on the Council.  He demands that those who were horribly and wrongly accused of misdemeanours and even of criminal activity, lie down and keep silent, even though no action was ever taken against them and they have been shown to be entirely innocent.

Naturally Mr. Davis, as one who sided overtly with the original accusers ( most of whom are now, thank goodness, no longer councilors) would wish his side of the matter to remain in the public mind while denying any access to a public voice for those who were so horribly maligned a few years ago. This is manifestly unjust and he would be better advised to head up an apology from the false accusers, which is the only way in which the matter can be laid to rest.

Is he man enough to do this?

Whilst I agree whole heartedly with Pat's views I do feel that it is about time we had a resolution to the matter that has blighted or community for many years. A resolution can only be achieved with compromise on all sides and understanding each other point of view. If both sides stay entrenched in a vendetta against each other this will never end. It takes backbone to stand up and be a man and to say sorry. Only when that is done by the people who started the whole affair will we be able to move on to closure. Is anyone from the original "gang of four" prepared to be upstanding to help reach a compromise?

I welcome your views on the matter, however any use of the vernacular or personal attacks on individuals or groups will not be published.

**The views expressed by myself are not necessarily the views of Councilor Fiona Richardson (my wife) I have not discussed Mr Mountains letter with her or this blog entry.**

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Armed Forces Day

As many of you will know I spent 38 years in the Armed Forces; both in the Army and the Royal Air Force and latterly as exchange officer with the Royal Navy at RNAS Yeovilton. I support all those who have served and are still serving in our armed forces, in my view they deserve our utmost respect and support at a time when our Government is intent on reducing their numbers and cutting financial support. I am pleased to see so many of our community taking the time to show their support of our brave men and women on this day. I realise that one does not need to have been a member of the armed forces to realise the strength and security they bring to our nation. To all of our armed forces I send a big Bravo Zulu to you all.

On a sad note however, three years ago I used to work with the local Army Cadet Force as an instructor and ran the Platoon that used to report twice a week at Langport. However, just over a year ago after a hateful, untrue and malicious anonymous letter from a member of this community to the Somerset ACF, it became untenable for me to continue. Yes, a loss for me, but a much greater loss to the local community, ACF and the now defunct Langport Platoon. I know who the letter writer is and that he reads this blog. So Sir, you are a coward and we will no doubt discuss this at a later date.


When I get it wrong, I always hold my hand up and say so. I believe that integrity and honesty are two of the main pillars of life. In my report about the last town council meeting I stated that,

"During this time Hopeless collared the reporter from the Western Gazette to complain and make his point, and as per usual they will no doubt side with him as they always have done in the past".

After the reading the true and complete story in the Western Gazette I am pleased to see that the reporter got the story 100% accurate and without bias. So Western Gazette, I apologise and it's good to see some good old fashioned and honest reporting, well done.


A quick update to all those who are concerned about the welfare of our ex Chairman, Eirian Williams. Eirian is still in intensive care, but he has not suffered a stroke or heart attack and he has no paralysis. He remains in a coma for the time being to aid his recovery and the doctors expect to bring him around in 12 - 14 days. Hopefully, he will make a full and speedy recovery and on behalf of you all, I wish him and Tracy our best wished.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Best wishes and a quick and full recovery

It is with sadness that I report that Eirian Williams was taken seriously ill in Yeovil yesterday and was airlifted to Bristol and is currently being treated in hospital for a stroke. On your behalf and my own, I wish him a full and swift recovery and that we will soon see him back in and around Somerton.

How to make a prat of oneself

Tonights full council meeting started with a some what embarrassing episode. Our well respected new chairman, Councillor Dean Ruddle laid down the rules from the national guidelines that during public question time, that questions may only be asked about items laid down in the published agenda. Any question outside the publish agenda should be presented to the clerk and a written reply would be given in due course. This, I recall has been the way public question time had been conducted by previous chairmen of the town council.

The first member of the public to jump up to ask a question was our very own Fraser-Hopewell, who attempted to raise a question not on the published agenda. The-ex chairman resplendent in his normal over the top pink shirt, pink trousers and beige jacket, an outfit that Ronald MacDonald would be proud of, was told very politely by the Chairman that his question was not on the agenda and therefore could not be answered. Mr Hopeless became very angry and agitated at this point, and it seemed that all the toys were about to thrown from his pram, we were not disappointed. Hopeless started waxing noisily about how when he was Chairman things were different and that the town council were suppressing certain information he wanted. Councillor Ruddle with a great deal of decorum and patience asked Fraser-Hopewell to please be quiet and sit down. This request was ignored and the chairman had no choice but to suspend the meeting for 30 minutes. During this time Hopeless collared the reporter from the Western Gazette to complain and make his point, and as per usual they will no doubt side with him as they always have done in the past. During the adjournment, Fraser-Hopewell approached the chairman twice, ranting and raving and eventually a councillor made a call to the police to come and remove the incandescent ex-chairman who it seemed intent on disrupting the meeting.

The full council meeting eventually restarted and again the ex-chairman (who should have known better), immediately stood up and insisted that his question be heard, and answered. Again Councillor Ruddle calmly asked Mr Fraser-Hopewell to sit down. Hopeless started ranting again and that the situation was outrageous and against democracy and that they (the council) did not want to hear the question because they had prior knowledge of it. The funny thing is however, when Fraser-Hopewell was chairman of the council I can remember him telling me, on two separate occasions that as my question was not on the agenda and it would not be answered and I should write to the clerk. Eventually, another member of the public demanded that Fraser-Hopewell sit down as other members of the public had questions and planning business on the agenda and he was holding up proceedings. At this point Hopeless backed down and muttering to himself left the building with his stoney faced wife. Some 10 minutes later, two police officers arrived. It was a shame they could not have arrived earlier, the sight of the ex-chairman being ejected would have been a sight for sore eyes for many in this community.

I doubt that this is the last we will hear of the ex-chairman and his never ending quest for information from his ex council. Here is someone who has always stated that the council was constantly under attack during his tenure and that he only wanted to draw a line under the issues and get back to normality. Now it seems the boot is now on the other foot and it is he who is scratching at the old wounds and attacking the current council members for his own agenda. All very sad really, how someone who is quite obviously well educated can sink to such low standards of public display and show how to make a prat of oneself.

Until the next time....

Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A Monstrous Carbuncle

Thirty years ago Prince Charles making a speech to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of the Royal Institute of British Architects described an extension to the elegant facade of the National Gallery as a Monstrous Carbuncle. I wonder what his comments would be over the now completed New Wessex House or as many in Somerton refer to it as, “Hopeless House”.

This finished building is completely out of character with its surroundings as it towers over almost every building on the town. How planning permission for such a monstrous carbuncle that blots our landscape was every given is beyond me. Considering this whole event was promoted and pushed by the former Chairman of Somerton Town Council, Mr. Fraser-Hopewell and the current Vice Chair of Somerton Town Council, Cllr Davies, who by the way are active members of SHBT (Somerton Historic Buildings Trust) and are now along with other members of the trust are actively campaigning to for funds to acquire the Old Town Hall. The Old Town Hall is a wonderful old building and deserves to be preserved, though not necessarily in the manner SHBT’s members propose, strange then that the same members of SHBT also support the horribly imposing Hopeless House.

I am lead to believe the “grand opening” will be in May and no doubt the ex Chair of Somerton Town Council will be there is some capacity or other to see his “vision” of a new Somerton come to life. I feel sorry for those who’s lives have been blighted by this eye sore and yet the Town has still to recognise and cope with the increase of traffic and parking problems this facility will create on our already busy roads and insufficient parking space once it is open for business.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

I used to know what amnesia was but now I forget

If there is one thing guaranteed to send you sleep with sheer monotony and empty waffle, it’s Somerton Town Council’s Land and Property Committee meetings.  What a surprise therefore, when the meeting held in the Parish Rooms on 11th March 2014 actually kept one awake, at least during Public Questions and Comments.

The first question to come from a member of the public to the Chairman, Cllr. Barrie Davies, concerned proposals to reconfigure the council offices in the Edgar Hall in the light of an L&P report that stated, ‘The question of possible changes to the Council's office arrangements has been referred to on a number of occasions, but without any resolution, partly at least due to the review of the future of ECH’. The Chairman explained that the reference should have been to the public opinion survey taken some time ago i.e. the one that 96% of the people of Somerton ignored.  There was no review.  The Chairman conceded that the statement had been wrongly worded.  So far, so good!

The second question concerned rumours of plans to move the council offices from the Edgar Hall to the Old Town Hall (OTH) if, as and when, the Somerton Historic Buildings Preservation Trust (SHBPT) could ever achieve their stated objective of gaining ownership of the OTH.  As Cllr. Davies is not only a member of SHBPT and its treasurer but also a Trustee, he seemed an appropriate person to provide an informed response, as was ventured by the member of the public who posed the question.

At this point it should be pointed out that SHBPT has been seeking an ‘anchor tenant’ for OTH, essentially to pay rent and ensure its financial viability.  The Trust had claimed in its Position Paper of 13th Jan 2014, Para 8 that an additional potential anchor tenant had been identified who was keen to use the building as a prestigious art gallery.  But additional to whom or what? The Position Paper is not specific in this respect.  Further, a risk assessment for their OTH project had been carried out by the Trust and had categorised the likelihood of the anchor tenant’s business failing as ‘Low’.  This raises the question of how anyone can predict a low likelihood of failure for any business.  Would that we all had such crystal balls!  However, this claim gave rise to the suspicion that maybe the potential anchor tenant’s business was not commercial but civic…..as with the offices of a town council.  This, coupled with Cllr. Davies’ statement in 2010 that he wanted to ‘bring back the Community Office to the heart of Somerton’ has led to some interesting speculation, hence the question at the L&P meeting.

Cllr. Davies’ response to being reminded of what he had said in 2010 drew an instant denial from him that he had ever said any such thing.  When the questioner rejoined that this was exactly what he had said on his election leaflet for that year Cllr. Davies’ memory suddenly improved to the point where he was able to recall that, ‘Lots of people said that’!  Reminded that it was he, rather than lots of other people who was under discussion, Cllr. Davies was asked directly whether the Trust had any intention of moving the council offices into the OTH, to which he replied with an unequivocal ‘No’.

So there we have it.  Cllr Davies has given his assurance both as a councillor and a trustee of the SHBHT that there is no intention to uproot the council offices in order that the council shall occupy the OTH as its rent-paying anchor tenant.  Cllr. Davies has said so and his assurance was witnessed by many people and has been repeated here for good measure.  It could even be used to jolt his memory in case he has another bout of selective amnesia.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Little man, big mouth...

During the last full council meeting held at the Edgar Community Hall on 25th February 2014, the council were debating a planning permission request for a car port and a retrospective planning request for a stable block. The land in question is agricultural land where planning permission had been previously granted some years prior; for the placing of a mobile home. This mobile home was used for the use of agricultural workers and over the years it had deteriorated to being uninhabitable and a log cabin was located in it's place. A log cabin has the same status and criteria as a mobile home and therefore no further planning permission is required.

It transpires that the Vice Chair of the Somerton Town Council Barrie Davies decided to puff his chest out and in his normal supercilious manner started asking the applicant some rather stupid questions. It was clear the aim of this barrage was to make the applicant look small and indicating (wrongly) that this log cabin required a fresh planning application. He then inadvisably for a person in his position as Vice Chair stated that a log cabin would resemble a "Gipsy Camp" along with other snide comments. After Cllr Davies had finished is diatribe with racist overtones he was immediately challenged by a member of the town council, who stated "just because someone wishes to lives in a log cabin, this does not make them a Gipsy". 

This crass act of insulting snobbery and overt racism by the Vice Chair is a step too far. Whatever your views of the Gipsy or travelling community, they have the right not to be marginalised or subjected to racist taunts on the way they wish to live and where or how they live. In fact one of our most respected ex-town councillors Mr Dave Smith of Badgers Cross lives in a rather plush log cabin and I would not advise Cllr Davies to suggest to Mr Smith that he is a Gipsy.

I call for the immediate resignation of Cllr Davies, his insensitive racist comments should not be tolerated and I trust you too will call for the same.