THE Mayor of Lyme Regis has issued an open letter to residents, addressing some concerns about a “lack of democracy” within the town council.
The issue was raised last month, when the council held its first public virtual meeting since lockdown restrictions were first introduced.
Some councillors raised concerns about the way the council was operating during lockdown and that the mayor had not been formally elected due to lockdown restrictions, and they called for improved democracy.
The mayor, Councillor Brian Larcombe MBE, has now addressed these concerns, describing the last three months as an “exceptional time” for our town.
An open letter from the mayor:
On the March 18 Lyme Regis Town Council debated and agreed that it should go into special delegated measures following the government’s ‘lockdown’ and the restrictions it placed on daily lives and the ways of working.
Members agreed to the way the council would continue to function as described in the proposition and in-keeping with other councils, as all introduced the delegation needed to enable day-to-day decisions to be made and issues to be addressed in the absence of regular council meetings, in line with government legislation.
In Lyme Regis Town Council’s case, we have also provided daily update reports to all members on everything conducted; members have been able to provide comments, ideas and suggestions on any matters they wish to put forward, and formal responses have been sought on significant issues during the period of lockdown.
Throughout this period the town clerk and the mayor have been available to members and the public, and have received calls and correspondence throughout. The chairs of committees, the deputy mayor and mayor have all remained for a second term in order to minimise disruption at this vital time, which is in-keeping with other councils. The level of engagement has been as good as, and possibly better than, could be expected of any town council.
It is therefore surprising that there has been some suggestion of lack of democracy when interaction has been maintained throughout the virus lockdown, and the way of working it necessitated of all councils was democratically voted on at the last physical meeting in March.
It was always intended, and was stated at lockdown and the March meeting, that the delegated way of working would be reviewed when the government’s COVID-19 restrictions eased to enable a return to something more approaching normality. This is where we now are and further progress in combating this virus and subsequent easing will hopefully allow us to return to holding physical meetings before too long.
There have been challenges throughout the last 14 weeks since lockdown, and the clerk and I have given a huge amount of personal time to them. It has been a seven day a week, full-time undertaking ranging from responding to matters affecting Lyme Regis; problems and concerns residents have raised; the issues local groups and businesses have raised; council staff’s daily working, whether at work or working remotely; interacting with other local councils, Dorset Council, Chris Loder MP and Daryl Turner, our Dorset ward member. All have been focussed and working to the same end and best interests of their area.
The actions and decisions taken have been carefully considered to comply with government requirements and guidelines; within the parameters of discretionary areas, and in concert with Dorset Council’s own initiatives. I pay tribute to the clerk and all the council staff who have dealt with the kind of issues I know from first-hand experience and involvement, have not been easy. I also pay tribute to all others who have worked hard for those they represent.
This has been an exceptional time and the consequences of this virus pandemic will remain with us in different ways to different degrees. There is the obvious financial impact everyone across the country will face – we all will as individuals one way or another, and our council is not exempt from it.
The totally unpredictable loss of income in the three spring months from April to June that immediately followed an inherited a once in a generation spend on the large expanse seafront shelters roof, an essential 50-year maintenance legacy and huge cost, both conspired to create a perfect storm for the council’s finances.
There has also been an impact on the town; its residents, businesses, livelihoods, and local groups and societies, which we have tried to support through this period.
We are a small West Country town council, we are not the principal local authority or government, we have limited means and limited influence, but we do have a local focus; we are a close-knit town and we have all, in my view, done as much as possible to counter the effects of this awful pandemic virus and its impact on Lyme Regis.
We have reached the second phase of restriction-easing and an approaching summer that will invite a sense that we are to some degree back to normal. However, the pandemic hasn’t been eradicated and caution must remain.
Holidaymaker income is important to the town’s economy and has an impact on local employment and the town’s facilities and upkeep. Local businesses have applied the required measures and guidelines, and have also used the lockdown period to improve their premises – full credit to them for the investment they’ve made.
The beach and seafront areas are in good condition and all signage is in place to advise visitors of the COVID requirements and guidelines to be respected. We do need these to be respected and self-responsibility exercised by everyone whether on Lyme’s beaches and open spaces or other urban towns we travel to or from.
The impact on income and livelihoods may ease but damage has been done and things will be difficult but Lyme, like anywhere else, will continue to combat the effects and overcome this. Lyme has a level of resilience and options many others don’t have.
With level heads and careful management, we will come through this. Lyme has had many significant events in its long history and this is but one chapter to add to it.
It has certainly shown me a side of Lyme and the way some have responded to a situation that doesn’t discriminate in its impact; it has brought the very best out of some and whether it’s been the quiet, under-the-radar neighbourly deed and support to those in the same street, or looking to keep the fabric of the town working. All are a very valued contribution and a credit to this small Dorset town we all care about.
Thank you to all who have given their support in the ways you have and do.
All the very best, and keep well.