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.

Apology

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.

Update

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.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

An Overdue Quest for Justice

Now it begins
You may have heard on Somerton’s ever busy grapevine that some of those apprehended during the height of the Edgar Hall affair have now made complaints of wrongful arrest to the police and to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. 

But why now?
That’s a good question. After all, more than four years have passed since the arrests and you might have thought that the whole thing would have died of old age by now.  The trouble is, it hasn’t and a steady stream of evidence has come to light that has strengthened the widely held belief that the whole thing was a set-up all along.  Enough has now been accumulated to make the complaints to the police viable.  You might think that however damning the evidence that has been found, it really isn’t worth stirring the whole thing up again.  There again………

The blow falls
Let us pause for just a moment to reflect on what happened to just one of those arrested on that fateful day in December 2010 on suspicion of fraud or of conspiring to commit fraud in connection with the Edgar Hall. 

A businessman is arrested at his home, which is surrounded by police, complete with armed riot vans positioned close by.  The house is searched from top to bottom and then the businessman was driven away to Bridgewater police station where he is stripped of his belongings and shoes and locked in a cell.  His fingerprints and DNA are taken and he is questioned for several hours before being allowed home.  There then follows four months of hell while the police investigation grinds to its inevitable conclusion and the businessman is informed that he has been completely exonerated because his business records provide a complete audit trail regarding every aspect of the investigation.  He is discharged from bail with no stain on his character.

My home, my castle
And that, you might think, should have been that.  But just put yourself in the shoes of that unfortunate businessman.  Just think how you would feel if you were picked up by the police, had your home, your castle where you should feel secure against intrusion, trampled over by a posse of clodhopping plods, your drawers and cupboards ransacked, your prized possessions touched by uncaring hands, your most personal and intimate things handled by uninvited strangers.  You would feel invaded, outraged, that your life had been raped and for what?  For something of which you knew you were completely innocent, for something that you knew had been stirred up and orchestrated by people who had nothing better to do than make trouble for others because it gave them vindictive pleasure and made them feel big and important.  And even when it was supposed to be over, when the police had given you a clean bill of health, there was the damage to your reputation after years of hard and honest toil, the previously friendly neighbours who would now cross the road rather than be seen talking to you, the local paper that seemed to be under some sort of compulsion to refer to the arrests as often as possible even when they were yesterday’s news.  Just how would you feel?

What goes around

The public response to the news of the complaints of wrongful arrest has generally been positive and many have said that such action was long overdue, given the gross injustice that was inflicted, apparently deliberately, on the Somerton Four.  A few, probably nursing queasy consciences, have been less enthusiastic.  One of these has been overheard grumbling and protesting that he thought the whole thing was over.  Sorry chum.  You started this.  And now comes the reckoning.

Monday, 27 January 2014

The Old Town Hall and hidden agendas

Somerton's Old Town Hall has been on the agenda for some time now, where members of Somerton Historic Buildings Trust (SHBT) have been lobbying for funds to restore and maintain this listed building. I am not against the preservation of this important piece of our community, but not at the tax payers expense via the Somerton Town Council precept.

This building is privately owned by Mr John Bailey of the Stepping Stones Group and is not Town Council property. The SHBT has campaigned for some time, for charity/lottery funds to purchase this building, with the further agenda of Somerton Town Council and South Somerset District Council to support financially the restoration and running costs.

SHBT have claimed that Somerton Town Council needs more workspace in an attempt to persuade townsfolk to support the project, rubbish! We have an abundance of underused town council property such as the soon to be old Doctors Surgery, The Parish Rooms, ECH to name but three.

Mr Bob Harris, Chairman of SHBT has been campaigning hard for funds and Mr Fraser-Hopewell (Ex STC leader and SHBT Trustee) has been lobbying numerous town councillors to get them to support the project. More worryingly, Cllr Davies, currently Deputy Chair of STC has been lobbying and working hard to gain support from all areas for the project.

If this historic building was owned by SHBT or another charity support for this building via the public purse and your taxes should be put to a vote by public referendum. It's your money and you should have your say whether you wish your taxes to be spent on this building. Further more, I must point out that whilst this building is privately owned no money from the public purse can legally be spent on it.

Is there a hidden agenda here? There are rumours that the Old Town Hall could replace ECH. Certainly there are those in the town and trustees for SHBT who would dearly love this to be so. To be honest the plans for the building as they stand represents a huge "white elephant" to the community should it be supported or taken on as work space. The upkeep and business running costs of the site are great and if the building was such a great business opportunity entrepreneurs would be falling over themselves to rent the place, to date they are not and interesting no support has been gleaned from the Heritage Lottery Fund, they too probably consider this project to be unworthy.