The happy council

The new Mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, pictured outside the Guildhall after the mayor making ceremony with wife Wendy, deputy mayor Jeff Scowen, deputy mayoress Belinda Bawden, town clerk Joh Wright and macebearers Heather Britton and Derek Hallett

AM I hearing things? Was that laughter I heard in the Guildhall. After many years when the atmosphere in the council chamber has been, shall we say, a little sombre, there was an air of excitement, anticipation and, yes, enjoyment, when our new town council met for their first full meeting.

No barbed comments. No disparaging allegations. No histrionics or childish squabbling. Simply, it was the most enjoyable council meeting I had been to for eight years and I went home feeling that – at last – we now have a happy council.

I hope my euphoria will not be ruined in the coming weeks. For months I’ve been saying that Lyme deserves better – and this was it.

In the recent election Lyme voted for change and it very much looked like change was definitely on its way when it was announced that in future, when residents raise matters in the public forum they will get a response within ten days, in writing I presume.

On many occasions in the past queries from the council taxpayers were aired and noted. And that was the end of it.

It was refreshing at the first meeting to see that all councillors participated in debate, not just a few whose strong views and aggressive delivery prevented others joining the affray. It was particularly heartening to see that both new young councillors, Kelsey Ellis and Leon Howe, made positive contributions and anyone who thinks that Kelsey, daughter of outgoing mayor Michaela Ellis, will always be on her mother’s side clearly doesn’t know Kelsey.

A similar air of expectation and joie de vivre prevailed at Wednesday’s mayor-making ceremony when Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE was officially installed as the town’s first citizen. It was one of the most enjoyable mayor-making ceremonies I can remember and that air of comradeship continued when the mayor invited all those present to join him and his wife for the after-match party at the football club.

Councillor Larcombe seems to be relishing his new role but, as always in local government, the honeymoon end will come around soon enough and he knows he has some meaty issues to get his teeth into.

High on his agenda will be urgent consideration of Lyme’s parking issues with many asking whether the failed attempt to get the park and ride in Sidmouth Road will be reignited and also the traffic issues with the much awaited arrival of the report by a firm of consultants due for publication.

There also seem to be important planning issues to be aired, including the development of the bungalow on the seafront which has caused so much angst, and the development of the Rock Point which, I understand, has caught the eye of the conservation officer with a possible recommendation of refusal because an old fireplace has been discovered in the cellar and needs to be preserved. Why?

One issue I know the mayor wants to gets to grips with is the balance of managing Lyme’s visiting population who make it such a popular holiday destination, with that of the needs of those who live and work in the town. There has been increasing concern expressed, especially on social media, that the council is only interested in cramming in more visitors and is not interested in doing anything much for the locals.

There is also talk of having a thorough review of the number of meetings the council holds and the reduction of gatherings behind closed doors. Does Lyme really need 60 or more council meetings a year? Does the committee system need streamlining or abolishing altogether and replaced, perhaps with two full council meetings a month?

With all councillors being able to serve on all committees, it means that every matter often gets discussed twice. I have heard councillors say on a number of occasions, if a motion they favour gets rejected at committee, “Don’t worry, we will get that changed at full council.”

These, and many more issues, will no doubt make good copy for this newspaper and we look forward to reporting on them in detail. There will be differing opinions but it is to be hoped that the friendly spirit that has emerged so early with this new council will continue no matter how strongly the competing views are expressed.

As president of the Lyme Regis branch of the Royal British Legion, I had the honour of laying a wreath with the new mayor of Lyme Regis, Brian Larcombe MBE, at the War Memorial in George’s Square, honouring the men of Lyme who fell in the Battle of Normandy and paying tribute to the American GIs who were billeted in Lyme in the run-up to D-Day (photo by Richard Austin)

Spare a thought for those brave young American GIs

AS I started to write this column World War Two veterans were gathering at the French resort of Ver-sur-Mer to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day and to watch Teresa May and the French President, Emmanuel Macron unveil a bronze statue featuring three Tommies racing up the beaches. It was a highly emotional gathering.

Four hours later, as president of the Lyme Regis branch of the Royal British Legion, I was among a number of people who gathered in George’s Square for Lyme to pay its own tribute to those men who made the supreme sacrifice in liberating Europe.

The mayor of Lyme Regis, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, laid a wreath on behalf of the town and I did likewise from the Royal British Legion. It was a much more simple ceremony than the one on Gold Beach, but no less significant.

Nine men of Lyme died in the Battle for Normandy with soldiers of the Dorset Regiment being among the first to go ashore on D-Day at Juno Beach. Among them was a young man named Alan Larcombe, the father of our new mayor, who kept a detailed log of his journey across occupied Europe until the ceasefire was announced.

The service was conducted by the Reverend Rosemary Bragg who told the gathering that C Company of the 16th Infantry Regiment of the 1st US Infantry Division were based in Lyme, with the company headquarters at the top of Woodmead Road under the command of Captain Victor Briggs, prior to the invasion.

These men were transferred to Weymouth from where they sailed on USS Samuel Chase for Normandy. At 7.40am on June 6 they landed at Omaha Beach at one of the most fiercely defended assault points along the 30 miles of coast. Many of them were slaughtered.

There were many great kindnesses exchanged whilst the GIs were billeted in town, many of whom were housed under canvas in camps across Lyme. The soldiers delighted local children by dispensing candy. Many of them were invited into local homes to share a meal to which they often brought exotic fruits such as pineapples that the people of Lyme had not seen for many years.

It’s a sobering thought that hundreds of those brave young men, thousands of miles from home, never made it back to the USA, but their last experience of kindness between allies was here in Lyme.

Start acting now

BROAD Street resident Simon West made an impassioned plea at last week’s meeting for the Town Council to follow other councils in Bridport and Chard, and at the new Dorset unitary authority, to declare a climate emergency in Lyme.

Not so long ago such a request, no matter how eloquently presented, would have been given little, if any consideration.

“What’s that got to do with us”, might have been the response. But those days are long gone. No local authority can ignore the increasing realisation that unless we take climate change seriously, and act now, our planet is in mortal danger.

Not only did Mr West outline the case with clarity, he also came up with some ideas of what action the council can take. His plea was well received by our new mayor Brian Larcombe and Mr West has already had a productive meeting with town clerk John Wright.

And I hear that Mr West is hoping he can help the council accelerate a response by becoming a member and is seeking a place on the council in the coming by-election, should there be one.

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