A FEW weeks ago in this column I wrote about the new spirit of friendliness and respect in the Guildhall under the headline ‘The happy council’, following the May elections.
It didn’t go down well, especially among one or two of those now not serving on the council.
A few days later I bumped into a regular attender at council meetings who told me: “Don’t worry, it won’t last.”
My first impression of the newly-elected council with five new members was that at long last here was a body of public spirited people who were determined to get to grips with some of the problems that previous councils had seemingly brushed under the carpet.
It was clear that they would not all agree over some of the more difficult issues – but there seemed to be a determination to listen to the views of local people before making decisions.
One new initiative I was pleased to see mayor Brian Larcombe MBE introduce was a commitment that matters raised in the public forum, where council taxpayers are given three minutes to raise issues or ask questions, would be answered within ten days if an answer could not be provided at the meeting.
It will be interesting to see if this is happening. Often in the past, questions have been asked but no response received.
With any new council there is a desire to say “yes” to what the town wants as much as possible, especially in the early days, but a successful council also has to learn when to say “no” when they think it’s in the long term interest of all and not just a few.
After a pretty vitriolic week on social media, I am tempted to suggest that the new council’s honeymoon is probably over and reality is kicking in.
Before the march of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and other social media platforms, councillors would only hear how their decisions were being received by the public if they were stopped in the street or through the letters column of the local newspaper. Not many would go to the trouble of writing a letter, although in recent issues we have published quite a few hard-hitting views on our letters page.
Today, within hours (sometimes quicker) a council decision is pilloried on Facebook with very few taking the side of local councillors. Such has been this week.
In the past few days two “yes decisions” have been slaughtered on Facebook – the £40,000 grant to St Michael’s Church to carry out repairs to their crumbling church tower and the permission granted for an art installation on Cobb Gate Beach, depicting a knife and fork with an opened burger box intended to encourage people to take their rubbish home.
The church decision was a difficult one for the council, one of those decisions that was never going to please all given the declining level of committed Christians and the extreme wealth of the Church of England.
The Lyme church is the only Grade 1 listed building in town and no council would want its demise on their shift. There was also an issue of legality with the 1897 Local Government Act, which has never been repealed, given express instruction that parish councils were not allowed to give money to the church.
Town clerk John Wright fulfilled his duty by telling councillors on at least two occasions that they were taking a risk but advice received from local government bodies also indicated that the decision to support the church financially would probably never be challenged provided councillors understood they were taking a risk.
The church has very complicated rules about how their churches should be run and it was explained to councillors that they had to reach a certain level of funding for the repairs before they could use any of their reserves.
The other issue where a “yes” has caused extreme concern and ridicule was the permission given for the art installation. Fortunately, this did not cost the town council a penny – but I would suggest it cost them a good deal of embarrassment.
With similar installations at West Bay and Weymouth, the litter sculpture soon became the talk of the town with beachgoers wondering exactly what it was all about. Kids scrambled all over it and someone actually left their rubbish on it.
Mayor Brian Larcombe made his views quite clear when it was first discussed; he didn’t think it would get its message across and he did not think Lyme was the type of place for such a project. But he lost the vote which rather puts pay to the views expressed that he is running a dictatorship by heading up so many council committees.
His deputy, Jeff Scowen, very keen on all forms of art and an admirer of the arts community in town, thought it was marvellous and did his best to defend the initiative on Facebook with very little support, it has to be said. It’s certainly been a talking point in town, so perhaps it has done its job in highlighting the need to take our rubbish home.
A lesson learned, also perhaps, for the new councillors. Sometimes it’s easier to say “no” than “yes”!
Twinning is not just for the elite
THE annual Sir George Somers parade in Lyme Regis was its usual colourful gathering, parading through the town to the end of the Cobb, where those taking part celebrated the link between Lyme and Bermuda, where Sir George, a former mayor of the town, was shipwrecked.
On this occasion, not so many people from St George’s, Lyme’s twin town, travelled over for the occasion so the prize for the best pair of Bermuda shorts, certainly the most striking colour, went to John Dover, chairman of the Lyme Regis/St George’s Twinning Association.
The parade was the brainchild of the late Richard Fox MBE who then went on to form the twinning link between the two communities, a role taken on and expanded by his town crier successor, Phil Street.
The link between the two towns was first recognised in the mid-1980s when, as mayor, I entertained the Mayor of St George’s, the late Norman Roberts.
There are reciprocal visits between the two towns every year with the Lyme contingent always going out to St George’s for their annual Peppercorn ceremony in April.
With so few coming over to Lyme this year, there has been talk of whether the link between the two communities fulfils the ethos of twinning. Because of the distance between the two towns, it’s virtually impossible for local organisations such as schools to make such a long journey.
There is also the misconception that twinning is just for the elite. No public money is allocated by the council to the twinning arrangement, with the cost of entertainment being raised by the organising committee.
Although I am a life member of the twinning association, I have never been to Bermuda, although my daughter Francesca has and now serves on the committee.
John Dover is keen to open up the twinning culture to all those who enjoy the exchange of experiences and cultures and discussions on providing a bursary for a local youngster to be able to experience the close ties between the two communities are on-going.
Lyme is also twinned with Barfleur in Normandy and I am a keen supporter of the twinning arrangement between Lyme Regis Football Club and our counterparts in the Normandy village of Creully, among the first to be liberated on D-Day, which next year celebrates its 40th anniversary.
During this time many friendships have been established – and this is the real benefit of twinning.