FORMER fisherman and mayor Victor Homyer once described the seafront at Lyme Regis as “the town’s shop window”. How right he was – but I wonder how he might describe it now?
Had Mr Homyer been present at the recent annual town meeting he may well have taken a very different view. “Neglected” is how he may have described it. One member of the public went as far as to describe it as “a hole”.
For many months now the Marine Parade – surely the jewel in Lyme’s crown – has looked, er, unkempt. This is the same seafront on which more than £1 million was spent a few years back to refurbish and equip the old shelters and rename them the Jubilee Pavilion.
The council borrowed heavily to finance the project and Chris Boothroyd, virtually single handedly, raised the £200,000 to make the area functional. Chris then recruited a team of volunteers to man the information desk at weekends and peak times, a service appreciated by visitors to the town, particularly as the Tourist Information Centre’s location is not exactly in a convenient or prominent position.
I was one of the volunteers, and so was my daughter Francesca, and I enjoyed many a Sunday morning gazing out of the pavilion doors and watching the gigs go out to sea. But like several others I withdrew my support when the council treated Chris Boothroyd in a shocking manner. We can’t blame this on the current council, it was down to their predecessors, but it has left a nasty taste in the mouths of those who gave Chris so much backing.
One of those people was Betty Holmes, who did not hold back when she raised the issue of the wasted opportunities at the Jubilee Pavilion. It’s no surprise that the pavilion is rarely open these days as so many volunteers have fallen by the wayside.
Whilst our current council cannot be held to account for the actions of the previous administrations, we can point the finger to the obvious neglect that has befallen Marine Parade. Nigel Ball, a keen observer of all things Lyme, who is as quick to praise as he is to criticise, drew attention to the disappearance of the canopy over the performing area, the lack of banners which have blown away and never been replaced and the declining use of the two community rooms.
I was the first person to book an event in the Lister Room, the one nearest to the Cobb, and have raised hundreds of pounds since using it as a venue for Cancer Research UK events. They are a tremendous asset to Lyme Regis and with a few simple marketing techniques I am sure they could be more much in demand.
Other complaints have emerged since the town meeting with attention being drawn to the overflowing rubbish bins over the Easter Bank Holiday. It would seem the message is getting home as the council has committed to investing more in keeping Lyme’s “shop window” in better order with additional staffing resources.
Concern has been expressed from many quarters, and even from some councillors, about whether the town council will be able to cope when they take on other responsibilities once West Dorset District Council disappears to be amalgamated with the county council to form one unitary authority for Dorset. Lyme is a rich council and is remarkably generous in supporting local organisations. There is not a council for miles around which puts so much back into the community. But with additional responsibilities coming their way, it may not always be so.
One function that is almost certainly being handed back to the town council will be the operation of Lyme’s much admired tourist information centre, located underneath the council offices in Guildhall Cottage. If this happens the town council will probably move its reception desk downstairs to share the facilities and there are many who would like to see the TIC staff take over the information service at the Jubilee Pavilion, at least for the summer months.
The town council is very keen to develop a corporate plan for Lyme’s future. That’s to be encouraged as Lyme has to compete in a very competitive tourism market. But before we worry too much about our image in the future, surely it’s paramount that the little things that make a town tick on a day-to-day basis – clean toilets, weed-free streets, safer roads, etc. – are addressed before we look at the wider picture.
We must also remember that it’s not just the visitors we need to look after. Don’t forget the locals.