Testing times for the town council

WILL CASH RESERVES HIT ROCK BOTTOM?

IT would seem the days of milk and honey may well be over for Lyme Regis Town Council. We learn this week that in the wake of the coronavirus the council’s reserves are expected to drop by nearly £1million.

The situation is so critical that one observer at the council’s video conference meeting on Wednesday asked: “What measures are you taking to stop the town going bust?”

Lyme has long been considered to be a generous council, especially in its support of grant aid to good causes and local organisations.

Facing some costly capital projects before the word “coronavirus” had ever been uttered, the council reduced the amount of grants from £130,000 last year to £80,000 this year. Even this lower amount is more than other neighbouring authorities in bigger towns than Lyme give away, but if the worse case scenario comes to fruition, there is no way the council can retain its level of support.

It is unfortunate that a once in a 50-year requirement to resurface the roof above the Amusement Arcade, Antiques & Craft Centre and SWIM, on Marine Parade, costing about £600,000 fell in a year when a pandemic plunged the world into financial turmoil.

The roofing project is almost complete and that £600,000 has made a big dent in the council’s resources which not so long ago stood at £1.3million.

As reported by LymeOnline this week, the council’s finances in April, as lockdown measures took a grip, stood at £969,794 but by June this had dropped to £581,674.

The council has gone through a quarter of the financial year with very little money coming in with car parts and seafront undertakings having all being closed down.

The man who had to deliver these disturbing figures was town clerk John Wright who adopted a cautious viewpoint. This was the right course of action because if the situation turns out to be more than his worse-case scenario, he is the man who would carry the can as the council’s chief financial officer.

Councillors were concerned that by the end of the current financial year in March 2021, their reserves could be down to as little as £67,000. And the town clerk warned that it was virtually impossible to give accurate estimations but the situation could vary by as much as £200,000 either way.

The council’s perceived wealth has come over the years from car parking revenue and resort amenities, such as beach huts and mini golf, all due to open in July. But the council is expecting to take just 50 per cent of their historic income from these sources.

Only 75 per cent of income from the chalet and caravan park is forecasted and commercial rents are expected to drop from £190,000 to £120,000 as the council is aware that some tenants are experiencing difficulties.

It all makes a pretty grim picture but these are the doomsday figures and if this week is anything to go by, and we enjoy good weather for the prime summer months, it may not be such a bad picture.

I understand that holiday letting figures for July and August are encouraging but the council will be looking at every cost centre to trim their budgets where possible.

One project that is likely to be shelved is the refurbishment of the council office, planned for when the Tourist Information Centre moves out of Guildhall Cottage.

The mayor, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, came up with an interesting observation at this week’s meeting. He said the one thing that the pandemic had proved was that Lyme is “too dependent” upon the tourist-related income.

This is not a good time to be mayor or indeed a councillor. We need to cut them a bit of slack and play our part in helping the town recover from this crisis. Councillors need to put aside personal grievances during this period. There will be plenty of time to settle scores when this is all over.

The council will soon be meeting behind closed doors to discuss. how they are going to deal with the dramatic decline in resources. As always, when financial matters are discussed, the public will not be able to have a presence at this meeting but the mayor has promised LymeOnline that a full statement will be issued on any decisions made.

In the meantime, local organisations which have benefitted greatly from the council’s generosity in recent years need to start thinking about how they will survive financially. Already, there are rumours that some of them may not survive.

So what to do about the yobs in town?

YOBBISH behaviour is becoming an increasing concern in Lyme Regis, especially for those who live in Cobb Road and along the seafront.

There have been a number of distressing incidents in recent weeks and the culprits are not all local by any means.

In one recent late-night incident on Monmouth Beach, a police officer was, allegedly, hit across the head with a crutch and had to be taken to hospital with three youths being arrested, two teenagers from Uplyme and Seaton and a 22 year old from Lyme Regis.

This happened in the early hours of the morning and one of the teenagers was just 16 years old. The first question you might ask is what was a 16-year-old doing out at that time of the night?

The playing of loud music and unacceptable behaviour has become a regular occurrence in the public gardens and some of those who live nearby are, I am told, at the end of their tether.

More complaints were made to the police overnight on Wednesday and it would seem few nights pass without an incident of one kind or another.

With such a small police presence in Lyme Regis, it’s difficult to know what the town council, as owners of the gardens, can do about it. One idea would be to employ a couple of security guards, as happens in other towns, but in view of the council’s current financial challenges (see above) this is not a practical solution.

I know the mayor, Cllr Brian Larcombe, is concerned about the frequency of the complaints received and he believes that such behaviour is giving Lyme a bad reputation at a time when the town needs to portray itself as a safe haven for its residents and visitors as we recover from the coronavirus crisis.

We have to hope that those who are apprehended by the police are dealt with by the courts to send out a message to others that Lyme will not tolerate such behaviour.

welcome lyme regis sign
Local photographer Percy Bird pictured at the old ‘Welcome to Lyme Regis’ sign

Let’s go for more traditional welcome signs for Lyme

I  RARELY join in Facebook discussions on local matters but when this photo popped up on my screen I couldn’t help but say we should return to this more traditional ‘Welcome to Lyme Regis’ sign.

It started a conversation in which many people expressed their agreement and it even went as far as local artist David Manners being asked if he could come up with a suitable alternative to the existing, more anodyne signs at the three entrances to the town.

I had no idea that Lyme Regis Town Council was considering replacing the signs which, if my memory is correct, were sponsored by the Rotary Club and include references to fossiling and Lyme’s twinning arrangement with St George’s in Bermuda.

The council’s Tourism, Community and Publicity Committee was given the go ahead this week to commission new signs to include the town crest and Lyme’s new plastic-free status – a draw for eco-conscious tourists.

I am fully supportive of the efforts of Plastic Free Lyme but I hope any addendums to the new signs can be accommodated on separate panels below the main sign itself as happens in many other towns. One for Plastic Free Lyme and another for the twinning arrangement would be sufficient.

Woodmead Halls
About Philip Evans 727 Articles
Veteran journalist and newspaper manager Philip Evans has worked in the publishing industry for more than half a century. He started out as a reporter for Pulman’s Weekly News as a young man and went on to work for an international publishing company in the UK, South Africa and Australia before returning to Lyme Regis where he is still reporting on local events as he has done for more than 53 years.

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