JUST as I was about to start writing this column, a message pinged into my mobile phone stating: “Philip, as far as I’m aware, we’re still waiting on news from the council at Lyme, but we are on the case to get clarity over the cinema.”
It was sent by Scott Cinemas, owners of The Regent Cinema in Lyme Regis, which has stood empty after it was burnt to the ground five years ago.
It follows an open letter in this column a fortnight ago to Scott Cinemas, asking them to come clean about the future of our much-missed Regent.
I will pass the message to the Mayor, Cllr Brian Larcombe MBE, and we await an update with bated breath.
Exactly what reply Scott Cinemas are expecting from the council is anyone’s guess, but I don’t believe there is any chance that the council will buy the property, as many have calling for.
The site at the top of the town is deteriorating as each days passes and the council must put pressure on the company to at least clean up the frontage of the building whilst a decision is made on whether there is any chance of it returning as a cinema in the future.
Perhaps three parking spaces could be sited on the forecourt to make up for some of those lost in Broad Street by the new pedestrian crossing.
We don’t want another 30-year blot on Broad Street similar to that we have had to endure at the former Three Cups Hotel, owned by Palmers Brewery.
So whilst the town waits for an update on The Regent, attention will inevitably move back to the ambitious and long-awaited plans to develop the Three Cups.
Before lockdown there was some hope that Palmers were about to proceed with the work, but of course the epidemic has put that on the back burner like so many other issues facing the town.
Having at least got a reaction from Scott Cinemas, which we have struggled to do before, we are now going to try and find out exactly what the likelihood is of the Cups development starting in the not too distant future.
Rumour has it that the cost has spiralled and that it’s not likely to be any time soon. So let’s remind ourselves what the project entails.
Back in March 2020 Palmer’s managing director John Palmer said: “Following the success of the Pilot Boat project, we are really excited about the new plans for the Three Cups which maintain the essential historic elements of the property yet develop a restaurant and letting rooms of the highest modern standards to enhance the facilities in the town.”
Mr Palmer added that the reduced size of the project will be able to be completed much quicker with considerably less disturbance to others, and he added: “We are really keen to get started in earnest.”
The original scheme envisaged the main building fronting Broad Street having a retail unit downstairs and luxury flats above, a signature restaurant at the rear with view over Lyme Bay, a number of beach-style huts as letting rooms, town houses and shops and an underground car park.
When the plans were first revealed it was confirmed in 2019, it was confirmed the scheme would cost £5million and start within three years.
Food festival upsets traders
WHILST it was nice to see so many people strolling around Lyme in the sunshine at last weekend’s eat:Lyme Regis festival, I’m not sure it did the town a great deal of good.
It certainly didn’t do the town council a lot of good financially, as I’m informed they only charged the organisers £500.
And as you can imagine, it has alienated a good many local traders who feel strongly, having gone through the most difficult trading period of their lives, to allow outside food providers into the town just as lockdown was being eased.
My information is that about 40 of them have got together to complain in a letter to every councillor but to date not one of them has bothered to reply.
There is a very uneasy relationship between the town council and the trading community, which has been going on for several years, and the failure to recognise their views and ignore their complaints is not going to help.
True, the council has allowed more al fresco dining on the seafront area but they had no choice really as the government decreed they had to relax rules on such matters.
The festival attracted about 60 stallholders, few of which were immediately local, and one local food trader told me his takings dropped by 50 per cent on the day.
Such events are very popular with day visitors but I think the council needs to reconsider their policy and take into consideration the effect they have on local traders, especially at this time when many have struggled to survive through the COVID-19 epidemic.
A good reason why councillors should behave
AFTER reading the rather fractious discussion at a town council meeting this week, I was left thinking that Lyme really deserves better.
It was no surprise to hear town clerk John Wright reveal that at one time half of all the complaints about the behaviour of councillors throughout Dorset came from Lyme Regis.
LymeOnline has been aware of this for some time and it has prompted me on several occasions to urge councillors to show more respect for each other.
The conduct of councillors throughout the land at all levels is governed by codes of conduct which outlines how our elected representatives behave. If a councillor is thought to have breached the code of conduct, formal complaints can be made to Dorset Council’s monitoring officer.
As we have reported on this website, councillors were asked to update their code of conduct and the discussion brought to the fore “personal tensions and underlying grievances of some members”.
The code of conduct is a rather toothless arbitrator and the complaints are usually sent back to the town clerk, a process of which I am sure Mr Wright finds frustrating.
Most of the complaints from Lyme councillors came from previous councils, when Mr Wright was first in the job, but there is still the occasional one that finds its place on the monitoring officer’s desk.
Back in the day when I was mayor I can’t remember there being a monitoring officer. If there had been a bit of a fall-out between members, the town clerk and I would call them in, discuss the issue and settle the matter. And that was the end of it.
I had a pretty tough year with the relationship between Lyme Regis Town Council and West Dorset Council being very fragile and the new sewerage plant the hot topic in the town.
Councillors fell out in the council chamber but rarely held a grudge and we went off to the pub afterwards when all was forgotten and we all had a pleasant time.
I appreciate things were a great deal simpler in those days; less confrontational, and it was left to the public to decide how effective their councillors were through the ballot box.
There is one matter that concerns me, however, about this.
Next year we could well have the youngest mayor ever if the new deputy mayor-elect Kelsey Ellis achieves her ambition of becoming Lyme’s First Citizen. She would also become the youngest mayor in the country.
This will be a big enough challenge for someone so young, Kelsey being just 21, and the last thing she needs is a council which is constantly falling out.
A councillor told me this week that Handforth (the parish council which propelled Jackie Weaver to national notoriety) had nothing on Lyme Regis Town Council! That’s worrying.
Footnote: If Kelsey becomes mayor she will relieve me of being the town’s youngest mayor, a rather dubious honour, which I have held since 1984. Not before time.