Sunday, 4 January 2015

A happy new year

A hope for the future

I wish you all a very happy New Year for 2015.  Last year saw a great deal of shenanigans around the town, so let’s hope this coming year will be one where the past can be resolved and laid to rest and our lovely town can get back to being the idyllic place it used to be.  Sadly, such resolution may yet take time because evidence continues to emerge of the chicanery employed by a small group of recently arrived, very self-important individuals who chose to use our town and its institutions as a vehicle for their own colossal egos and self-interests and, without caring who got hurt by their arrogance, their scheming and their downright lies, were prepared to go any lengths to get their own way.  It is salutary that those whom they attacked have largely been the very people who have done the most for this town over a great many years.  Fingers crossed that it will soon all be out in the open instead of festering away like an un-lanced boil beneath the surface.

Changes in the Town Council

2014 saw big changes on the town council with the departure of Roger Calderwood as town clerk and Terry Philpot taking post. I wish to thank Roger for his long-standing tenure over a difficult time. Terry is a no-nonsense, straight talking post holder and I am sure he will be an asset in the future. It is good also to see the assistant clerk working hard at the day-to-day administration that makes the council work and she too is to be thanked. It is good to see that finally the majority of town councillors have gelled and work as a team to make our town a better, more comfortable place to live and work. Their efforts over the past year have not gone unnoticed and I wish them all power to their elbows for the coming year.

Learning from mistakes

2014 also saw the opening of the new Wessex House care home in Behind Bury  and the doctor’s surgery. I still dislike the look of the care home building as to my mind it does not fit the architecture of the town and the doctors’ surgery is not large enough for its populace. Still, it’s been built and therefore we must live with what we have and learn the from mistakes made in the planning stages of this development and make a better case next time to oppose any plans that do not fit and gel with the town’s image.

So what’s in store ahead? We await the final outcome of the old Wessex House (Pesters Lane) planning saga, the initial application having been soundly rejected by both town and district councils.  It would appear that lessons were learned from the Behind Bury care home were put to good use here. Do not get me wrong, I am not opposed to the project, but it must be a balanced development and not driven by greed to cram as many units into one space as possible. Thought must be given to the current skyline and the colossal bulk and height of this proposed development.  Another concern is the limited parking available and the prospect of overspill parking on Pesters Lane, which would create problems for emergency vehicle access should the need arise.

And another questionable project

One would like to see a mutually acceptable resolution for another saga, namely that of the Old Town Hall.  SHBPT, the charity that aspires to own this important building, has failed to secure any meaningful funding to move forward and we as council tax payers should not subsidize this charity unless the building is to be of use to the whole town and not just a few self-regarding, snobbish, upper class wanabees who crave the building for their own self-centred interests.

But there again…….

So as we move firmly into 2015 I wish you all, including those with whom I do not see ‘eye to eye’, a safe and harmonious year and maybe, just maybe we will see yet another candle wax masterpiece?

Until the next post……

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Divide and Rule

How to compromise a council
Very recently the Stepping Stone Group, builders of the ghastly new Wessex House care home in Behind Berry, held a series of meetings in the Old Town Hall, which they own, in order to unveil amended versions of their plans to construct yet another gruesome and overpowering edifice on the site of the old Wessex House in Pesters Lane, their original plans having raised considerable public ire as well as being comprehensively rejected by Somerton Town Council.  Attendance at the meetings was by invitation only; to selected persons at 2.30pm, prospective purchasers of apartments within the proposed development at 3.00pm, members of Somerton Town Council at 3.30pm and finally residents of Wessex Rise at 4.30pm.   It is reported that attendance at the meetings was very poor, with the possible exception of Wessex Rise residents who were there in some numbers as would be expected as they are the most likely to be affected by the development of the colossus looming over their homes and the likely parking overspill into their gateways.
Mr John Bailey of Stepping Stones is quoted in the ‘Western Gazette’ as saying that he was particularly pleased that representatives of Somerton Town Council attended to get a better understanding of ‘close care’, the concept behind the proposed development.  Anyone would think from this that the council had been there in force and after listening intently, had gone away in guilty understanding of how wrong and precipitate they had been in throwing out the proposal in the first place.  As it was, only two members turned up, one of whom is a trustee of SHBPT, which is attempting; somewhat lamely it seems, to raise enough money to buy the Old Town Hall from Mr Bailey.  A third attendee from the council was the Clerk, from which one must assume that none of the council trio was aware that the meeting was to be held in camera, nor would have gone had they known, for attending private meetings with a developer, whose foremost concern must be his own vested interest, is a certain way to compromise one’s position. 

In fact, this was exactly the kind of scenario that Mr Niall Connolly, the Somerton Blogger of Muck and Brass infamy, tried to create and exploit in his campaign against the old council to insinuate their involvement in secrecy, sleaze, shady deals and the comforting rustle of brown envelopes.  Although Connolly’s snide insinuations had no basis in fact, the fallout from his vindictiveness is still contaminating this town and it beggars belief that the lessons of the recent past have been so quickly forgotten.  Let us hope that our elected representatives and council staff take heed in future. 

And if Mr Bailey has information for the council, then he should present it in the open, at a town council meeting at the proper time and place and not with councillors behind closed doors. 

Why not one meeting?

Inevitably one must ask why Stepping Stones conducted a series of meetings instead of just one for everybody and, more to the point, why do it in private.  If Stepping Stones had any confidence in their amended proposals, why didn’t they hold a public meeting?  Could it have been that they not only wished to concentrate their efforts on selected target audiences but also to keep out noisy and persistent dissenters?

History repeating itself
All this leaves one with a sense of déjà vu, especially for those who recall a certain Parish Meeting in the Ladysmith Hall a while back, when the occasion was hijacked by the then chairman of the Town Council, Mr Michael Fraser-Hopewell and Mr John Bailey.   
Parish meetings are for local voluntary groups to showcase their activities, not for developers to promote commercial interests or friendly and obliging council chairmen to pave the way for them.  This may not have bothered Bailey but Hopewell should never have countenanced, let alone facilitated such a blatant  misuse of the meeting, whose attendees were expected to suspend their own activities while he proclaimed that a very important presentation was about to take place.  The presentation was all about the proposed new doctor’s surgery and, oh yes, Mr Bailey’s new Behind Berry care home. 
Following the presentation questions were invited from the public but were answered, not from the stage, but by Stepping Stone representatives circulating on the floor and speaking to individuals, by which means any awkward questions would not be heard aloud.  Is there a pattern discernible here?
It is also noteworthy that when Stepping Stones’ Behind Berry planning application came before the council, Hopewell announced from the chair with staggering lack of impartiality that this was the ‘last chance’ for a new surgery in Somerton.  He was talking twaddle, of course – there’s always scope for further development – but, despite some uneasy muttering from councillors, the application was approved.  However, we digress.
That wicked Old Council
When the councillors elected in January 2010, who should have been busy running the town, were expending their energies on gathering what they and the Somerton Blogger wishfully thought was evidence of criminality against the leadership of the council they had recently replaced, a series of ‘briefing sessions’ were held by Hopewell and Vice-Chair Pat Bennett for other councillors, ostensibly to ‘present the detail’ to them of the auditor’s Draft Statement of Facts in respect of Blogger Connolly’s objection to the council’s accounts for 2008/9.  There is a great deal more that could and will be said about this but for the moment it is the briefing sessions that engage our attention for there were five of them held in early July 2010 for very small groups of councillors.  The subsequent arrests of four completely innocent people is testament to the success of cosy and intimate brainwashing sessions as opposed to one meeting for all concerned.
Bottom line
If this is beginning to sound familiar that is because it is just that … is far easier to nobble people in small groups than en masse, where the personal elements of eye-to-eye contact and (contrived) sincerity are lost and where one determined objector can carry a lot of inconvenient and contrary opinion with him or her.  It is far better to divvy up the rabble and knock them into compliance piecemeal.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

The Missing Masterpiece revealed

After my previous blog about the Missing Masterpiece the demand to view the item by the residents of our dear town has been overwhelming. By chance a certain local man who has a flair for re-creating and crafting, managed to make a similarity, albeit not to scale as the original was much larger. However, he has preserved the work for prosperity and possible future exhibitions. The recreation can viewed for free, in a window of a high class emporium of carpet and window furnishings on West Street. How long this exhibition will be on view is not known, but an early viewing is recommended so as not to be disappointed. The whereabouts of the original work is not known, which is a shame as the original artist clearly has certain fuelled moments when her talent comes to the fore and must be expressed. One wonders if there are other masterpieces out there yet to be discovered and whether new works will be created over the festive period?

Monday, 1 December 2014

The Missing Masterpiece – Latest News!

A remarkable recovery
When, on the 21st October, we reported on the Missing Masterpiece, we thought that was the end of the matter as we had heard that this unique work had been destroyed without trace, something we regarded as a tragic loss.  However, it now transpires that it was in fact seen by quite a few people, who have been able to provide corroborative descriptions of the piece and from these it has been possible to create a partial replica which, although it cannot match the size of the original, that being a complete dining room carpet, does perfectly capture the spirit of the original, thereby preserving for posterity an important part of Somerton’s cultural heritage.  Shortly, and for a limited period only, this remarkable piece will be on display in the window of Somerton Furnishings in West Street.  Do keep an eye open for it as this opportunity may never arise again.

But who was the original artist?
We have heard that although the identity of the lady who created the original is becoming quite widely known around the town, we have elected to respect her anonymity, which we are sure, would be her fervent wish.

We also understand that the lady who created the original work did in fact recover from her hangover, although it must be said that we are not sure which one.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Bah humbug....

How mean can you get?

This is a Christmas tale that defies belief and one that Dickens’s Scrooge would be proud of.  I am reliably told that a certain Barrie Davies, Somerton Town Councillor and Treasurer of the Old Town Hall Charity, SHBPT is opposed to paying for the electricity that powers the Christmas lights that decorate the OTH and told the town council that if they would not pay the electricity costs, then the lights around the OTH would not be switched on.  Almost held to ransom by one of their own councillors, the council agreed to pay the costs to ensure that the centre of Somerton looks festive, especially after councillors and other members of the public, notably minus Councillor Davies, had spent a lot of their own time and a great deal of effort in cold and inclement weather to ensure the season’s decorations went up in good time. 

But it gets even worse

However, the penny-pinching story does not end there.  In a twist that might have embarrassed even Scrooge, the same Councillor Davies blustered into a well-known Somerton whole-food shop and declared that SHBPT would not pay a single penny towards the electricity costs for the lighting.  The lady who owns the business had spent a great deal of her time as a volunteer helping to put up the lights and running her successful business as well, tasks not easily juggled.  In a public-spirited rebuttal to this heartlessness, the good lady took £20 of her own money and offered it to Councillor Davies, who quite unbelievably took and stuffed it in his pocket and without much of a “by your leave”, turned on his heels and walked off. 

Now, I understand that the OTH is a charity and that money is tight, but this meanness defies belief.  Most, if not all Somerton traders on West Street, The Market Place and Broad Street, not to mention pensioners in the Hext Alms Houses gladly contribute towards the costs of the Christmas lights to make our beautiful town festive at this time of year and bring some joy and festive cheer to shoppers and children alike.

Bringing a charity into disrepute

It is well known that SHBPT guard their charitable status with jihadist fervour, but seem to not understand the true meaning of the very word ‘charity’.  They seem to think that it means standing there with their hands outstretched waiting for others to shower ever more munificence upon them.  You can’t help wondering what the Charity Commission would make of one of their registered charities acting in such a disreputable way.

I say shame on you SHBPT - no wonder the people of Somerton express ever lessening support for your designs on the OTH, whatever you may claim to the contrary. 

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.