Ask the Mayor: Your questions answered

Councillor Brian Larcombe

WITH all meetings of Lyme Regis Town Council being suspended due to coronavirus, the Mayor, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, has agreed to answer questions that we will put to him on your behalf and we will then publish his responses in all issues of LymeOnline during the crisis.

Send in your questions for our next issue by emailing with the subject ‘Ask The Mayor’

We set up our business, Causley Cabs, 18 months ago after making a career change from licencees. We are so grateful for the support we have received from the lovely people of Lyme and surrounding areas and have met some wonderful people through our work. 

The summer months are naturally the busiest for us, as we are fortunate enough to live in such a beautiful place that everyone loves to visit. However, something that we have noticed, is that visitors to our town have no idea where they can go to get a taxi should they need one.

Neighbouring towns of Axminster, Seaton, Bridport, etc all have designated taxi ranks – but we do not. I have lost count of the amount of times visitors have said to me “we didn’t know where to go to find a taxi? We asked in shops are were told there was no rank?” 

So, my question is pretty simple really. When we emerge from this worrying time that we are all experiencing at present, and we try to rebuild our businesses which will have been, in cases such as our own, closed for some months, would the council consider the possibility of the addition of one or two designated taxi spaces in the town? 

I don’t think a ‘rank’ is necessary, and I appreciate that space is limited in our town, but maybe one space in the Cobb gate area, and one space in the Cobb Square specifically for a taxi to wait in?  These spaces would be filled on a first come first serve basis and would be shared by the several firms that operate in the town, but at least it would give somewhere to direct people to should they need a taxi – and not just visitors – but our lovely locals who very often like to get a lift up the hill, home from the pub, help with heavy shopping, etc. 

The Cobb Gate car park belongs to Dorset Council not Lyme Regis Town Council so a taxi rank/car space in the park is for them to consider. Similarly, the Cobb Square area is a highway and Dorset is the authority for it.

I guess from a practical point of view there’s also the question of who the customers would likely be particularly at the Cobb and whether they would simply ring for a taxi to come and pick them up, – and at the Cobb Gate car park whether the level of uptake would cover the cost of hiring the space(s) at the daily rate charged for them, in what is a very busy short stay car park.

On a more general note, taxi ranks tend to be at the centre of large towns, bus stations or railway stations.

I noticed that the main beach was swept by the council on Good Friday morning. Was this sensible in view of the lockdown instructions not to travel to seaside resorts over Easter? Surely making the beach more attractive to visitors could have encouraged more people to use it. Was a council employee paid overtime to do this work on a Bank Holiday?

The beach was raked as minimum maintenance for the purposes of its kept condition and profile. It is usually done daily in the season but given the lockdown will be done much less frequently. The staff were not paid overtime.

In the last ‘Ask The Mayor’ column, I was interested to read that the council is spending £600,000 on a new roof for the upper tier of the Marine Parade (above SWIM and the Amusement Arcade). I also understand that the council has a number of other costly capital projects. Will the loss of parking revenue caused by the coronavirus lockdown have an impact on the council’s ability to deliver these projects?

The two major legacy projects are being funded from the council’s current reserve which was grown as a contingency to be spent on asset maintenance needs and capital undertakings, as distinct from covering running-cost needs which should be funded from income. We inherited two long-standing major needs in the shelters roof which was leaking rain water and was over 25 years past its surface warranty, and the council office premises which are not currently fit for purpose and need essential maintenance work.

Both will be funded from the reserve which is proportionately higher than would be expected of a town council of Lyme’s size; many other councils would likely have to borrow to commit to the kind of costs these works represent. Costs of the two undertakings will be contained to leave a more modest sum in the reserve once completed.

Are all the council’s administrative staff working from home or have some of them been furloughed? The garden staff are also not working so have these been furloughed? Would it not have been possible for the gardening staff to have continued working at such a critical time for the preparation of the gardens for the summer, assuming that they could work whilst adhering to the social distancing advice?

All the council’s admin staff are working from home; there will be an application to furlough council staff where their current work has reduced to a level that invites the measure to be taken. There are some external staff who will remain to undertake necessary maintenance and grounds upkeep to avoid bigger problems on return to a post-virus lockdown, and as such they have been carrying out work where social distancing can still be preserved.

I have read the response from the council to criticism on social media about the management of Monmouth Beach during the coronavirus crisis. Are you satisfied that the council staff handled this situation properly as there are still rumours that more people are occupying the chalets and caravans than stated. Are the council checking these sites or is it being left to the police?

Our council correspondence has been clear in conveying our position in support of government guidelines and instruction, and the measures we are all expected to recognise and adhere to, particularly during the lockdown period. Every occupant has been contacted and those few that remain have expressed a legitimate reason for being there. Most have left and those few that remain can help keep an eye on the empty units. We do check the area regularly to ensure the position remains as is.

Separately, what I am hearing of is a kind of behaviour towards the occupants from some sources which is wrong and does nothing to help a situation no one wants. We all want to see the eventual back of this virus and that post-virus environment should not be soured by the present actions of those who have exercised their views in the way they appear to have been doing.

When the coronavirus epidemic is over does the town council have any plans to honour the frontline NHS workers and carers who live in Lyme Regis?

I have been giving thought to this and we will be exploring how we can acknowledge the work of those who have made a direct impact on the well-being of Lyme residents, whether in medical and caring support or helping to maintain essential needs of the town, and look to organise a fine weather ‘town day’ event when the decline of this awful virus permits.

We have often been told that Lyme Regis Town Council is rich. A number of big events that bring thousands of people to the town have been forced to cancel their events. Will the council be in a position to offer financial assistance to these organisations who find themselves out of pocket?

Lyme council is essentially ‘asset rich’, it’s not as ‘cash rich’ – its income comes in and goes out again to maintain its services and support to the town and its tourist offering as a destination of choice. The scaling of this level of undertaking will likely have to reduce in light of our fall in income. We will not have the ability to give financial support to event organisers; our support will continue to be, as far as we can in the present climate, to maintain the environment to which people are drawn to holiday or visit. All of which contributes to the events organisers host within our town.

Events are self-funded and how much event organisers have chosen to commit to in advance of the virus situation we’re presently in is hard to determine and would be beyond the council to reconcile.

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