Wednesday, 22 October 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Christine James

CHRISTINE James was born in Benfleet, near Canvey Island, in Essex and, when she left school, her first job was window dressing in a Knightsbridge shoe shop. Since then she has done a huge variety of jobs from an RAC messenger to making concrete posts. She was even a kiss-o-gram although she said ‘I only did it once’. Christine went on to qualify as a driving instructor in 2003, a job she still pursues. She is a borough councillor and the current Deputy Mayor of Weymouth and Portland.

WHY do you live in Weymouth?
Circumstances at the time brought me here – it was the weekend of Princess Diana’s funeral and I have lived here ever since.

WHERE do you go for your holidays?
What’s a holiday? I haven’t had one for three years. The last place I went to was Turkey with friends and it was OK. If I did get a holiday I have family all over the world so I might go to New York.

WHAT is your favourite time of the year?
I like all seasons but I suppose autumn because I was born in the autumn and I like the colours and the crispness of the air.

WHAT is your favourite film?
I quite like the Die Hard movies with Bruce Wills, a proper man doing proper man’s stuff!

WHAT is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you?
Having a heart attack and not knowing I’d had one. I hadn’t been feeling well, went to the doctor and was given an electro cardiogram. When they got the results I was immediately sent to hospital and told I’d had a heart attack. That was a bit scary as at the time I ran, cycled and swam a lot and got told I had to take life a little easier which is hard.

IF you could live your life again what would you be?
I think I would love to be a singer, dancer or actress. I love to sing and dance although I’m not great, but I’d love to be good enough to make a career out of it, especially acting.

WHICH three people would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I would love to invite Sherlock Holmes because I am quite a logical thinker like him, Queen Victoria because I would be really interested in her views on the current royal family and, lastly, I’d invite Margaret Thatcher because she provokes debate whether good or bad.

WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery?
I would make sure all my children and grand-children were looked after and disappear to a desert island for a few months where no-one could find me... as long as I had a rowing boat to get me back to people when I wanted!

WHAT do you hope the future holds?
I hope that Britain can become British again. We have to embrace multi-culturalism but not at the expense of losing our British character and what is essentially British.

Skatepark funding should be fair to all 

THE uproar over the town council’s affirmation of cycling and skateboarding along the seafront, and indeed in all council-owned grounds, including the cemetery, has thrown the spotlight on a wider issue – namely the pending construction of a £150,000 skatepark on the Charmouth Road car park.

This council – at least a majority of them – have been committed to delivering a skatepark for the young people of Lyme Regis - after a debate that had raged for more than 30 years -  before they go the polls next May.

In that time a temporary skatepark was erected in the Lister Gardens and a number of potential sites have been considered including Monmouth Beach and the Anning Road playing field, neither of which were deemed acceptable.

The final selection of a site in the district council–owned car park in Charmouth Road, adjacent to the allotments – was never considered to be the ideal location but the only one available.

In his explosive Council Sketch column last week, Geoff Baker referred to the meeting last April when the council decided to finance the total cost of building the skatepark from their reserves, the only council in this area to do so.Geoff, in his inimitable style, described it as a “back slapping, self-congratulatory” decision. The council chamber was full of skateboaders and supporters, some of whom heaped generous praise on the council for finally delivering for the skateboarding youngsters of Lyme.

The Guildhall audience was staged managed, of course, as is mostly the case when a big issue is to be discussed to put councillors under pressure or to make a point.  Nothing new in that. At that time it was hoped that the skatepark would be up and running by this Christmas.  That prediction is looking a tad optimistic, especially as an application for planning permission has only just gone in after two false starts which councillors described as “frustrating”. “Careless” would be a better word.

At this rate it could well be touch and go if the skatepark is completed before next May’s election, especially as there is likely to be strong opposition from neighbours in Charmouth Road. 

There are two other big issues surrounding the skatepark. The first is the transfer of land from the district council and whether the negotiations over the lucrative Monmouth Beach car park will have any effect on WDDC giving up further car parking space at Charmouth Road. 

As I understand it, the district council have not yet transferred the land but intend to do so when the planning application has been approved, as I’m sure it will.   But there are concerns at Dorchester about the loss of up to 50 car parking spaces which could cost WDDC between £30,000 and £50,000 in lost revenue  every year.

The other concern is why Lyme did not seek any grant aid from WDDC or the National Lottery. WDDC has made a contribution to all the other skateparks in West Dorset, but Lyme council decided to pay for the park by using their combined resources, previously allocated to various other projects in the town.

I applaud the council for their determination to deliver the skatepark, although like many others I have doubts about how many youngsters will use the facility, but they should finance the project in the most cost effective manner for all sections of the community by offering match funding, i.e. agreeing to contribute £75,000 if the skateboarders raised a similar amount through fundraising and grant aids.

This is a view shared by many in town, some of whom are reluctant to complain and be labelled anti-youth or to decry the fundraising efforts of new councillor Cheryl Reynolds,who has worked so hard  for the cause in recent times.

The chosen method of funding the skatepark is perfectly legal – but is it fair to all council taxpayers in Lyme? 

You will have to make your own mind up on that one.

A final hiccup in the long running church railings saga . . .

LAST week in this column I wrote about the long running saga of the church railings and praised the town council for funding the project.

I was prompted to do so because several people mentioned to me how nice the new Portland stone coping stones looked.  But it would seem that those same people were left scratching  their heads when they realised that some of the crumbling  old blue lias coping stones were being retained, contrasting badly with the pristine Portland stone.  It looked ridiculous.

Questions were asked at last week’s Town Management meeting, chaired by Chris Clipson, whom I praised for keeping his promise to deliver the new railings at St Michael’s Parish Church during the life of this PR-gaff proned council.

The reason, curious councillors were told, was that they had been told that as much of the old wall/railings had to be retained.

However, I am now informed that the contractors have been told to take out the old blue lias stones and to complete the wall with Portland stone coping stones.

I understand that the church was inundated with complaints about the stupidity of mixing the two.  Several locals came into our office drawing attention to it, posing the question “If the powers that be wanted to retain some of the old ones, why did they not chose new blue lias stones?”

I am also told by a church official that the final scheme agreed with planners and the diocese was exactly the same as that mooted when it was first agreed that the railings needed replacing – in 1994. Twenty years ago!

Remembering on Remembrance Day

THERE are only 18 days left until Remembrance Sunday when the nation pays its respects to the fallen.

Their names can be found on memorials in the heart of cities or the heart of the countryside. It doesn’t matter which because the message is the same. This person gave their life for their country, their today for our tomorrow, accepting death that freedom might live.

Those sacrifices were sometimes given on such a scale that whole villages were virtually wiped out, entire friends’ groups decimated, with more than one million alone dying during the First World War’s Battle of the Somme. The British Army lost 12,000 in a single hour.

But memories blur – no First World War soldier is still alive – and attitudes change. Those whose ultimate sacrifice is remembered by their name being listed on a memorial now find those tablets a target for scrap metal thieves who place a different value on sacrifice.

The nation condemns, but headstones are smashed on war graves and slogans daubed in remembrance areas while claims are incredibly made that events such as the Holocaust never actually happened.

So what will you do on November 11th at the eleventh hour when the country traditionally falls silent as a mark of respect? Will you remember, will you be so involved with your modern life that you completely forget this time’s significance or, worse, will you deliberately flaunt your refusal to remember the ‘warmongers’?

If you are looking for an example to follow then I suggest the actions of a weary ploughman many years ago are the course of showing respect we should all follow.

It was an unusually hot November day and he could be seen behind his horses, shouting encouragement as they ploughed furrows up and down the field, but as 11 o’clock came close he paused in mid-furrow, removed his cap and bowed his head.

In the middle of nowhere he didn’t know anyone was watching. He did it because he wanted to, because it mattered to him and because it was the right thing to do.

Perhaps no-one will be watching you when 11 o’clock comes round in 2014. Perhaps you feel that showing respect is an outdated tradition.
It is up to you, but I will remember the fallen and millions more will too. Lest we forget.

Council acted in haste, now we pay for their repentance

WHAT goes around comes around and no-one knows that better than Weymouth council.

It is currently considering a scheme which could demolish its North Quay offices and build a series of town houses and apartments to extend the existing historic lower harbour look right up to Boot Hill.

What a good idea, people might say. I wonder why they didn’t do that before?

Well the simple answer is that it was done before, many centuries before, and the council knocked those buildings down to make way for the council offices it now wants to demolish!

There were Tudor houses on the current council offices site, perhaps not in the greatest shape but they were still Tudor and irreplaceable; so the council got rid of them anyway despite heroic efforts to stop them. Some of the rubble still lies reproachfully in the harbour.

Now history beckons again, but this time from the future not the past with an attempt to recreate the historic harbourside look which is such a striking feature of the area from Holy Trinity Church to the lifeboat station.

Certainly the project deserves to succeed because it is such an improvement over what is there at the moment, but it still goes to show the validity of that expression: ‘act in haste, repent at leisure’. 

Just think what an attraction those Tudor homes would be now if they’d been kept and restored.

What will school meals of the future be like?

SOME primary school children are sampling the delights of free school meals in Weymouth.
There is nothing quite like tucking into ‘frog’s spawn’ (tapioca) and ‘drainpipes’ (macaroni), or there wasn’t in my day, but modern school meals have taken a few culinary steps forward.

I was talking about this and recalling old school days with a few people over a coffee when they idly wondered what school meals would be like in 50 years time.

Well, for a start they will be much more efficient and there certainly won’t be any education time lost by children having to queue for lunch or even by having a lunch break which will probably have been scrapped.

A real possibility are giant tanks of protein culture which can be coloured, shaped and given whatever taste and look food producers want, something which will probably be vital by then given world population growth, pollution and agricultural land pressure.

Hopefully future meals will be a bit tastier than that, but half a century is a long time and for all we know cows and fruit trees may be endangered species by then.

So if you don’t like your school meal you should still be grateful. It is a lot better than it was and probably a lot better than it will become.

‘Power to the People’? 
It’s practicality, not politics

MY seafront walk now leaves the museum and theatre, lying a few paces apart with the town council between them. An inside-out sandwich! 

Their volunteers – being trusted and respected by those in charge – have such energy, commitment and quality. Will councillors sometime look out from the Guildhall’s echo chamber to notice how their exemplary neighbours work?

Ahead are Phase II of coastal protection scheme, the reinstated gardens, and restored shelters. Together enhancing our seafront, each owes much to vigorous, informed local contribution. They remind us how valuable is ‘people power’.

I’ve been reading press cuttings and leaflets, and listening to some people involved, when from 1989 to 1991 Lyme’s voluntary ‘Committee Opposing Beach Breakwaters’ (COBB) challenged the water company and district council. With untreated sewage in the sea, and the seawall deteriorating, the two authorities planned storm water holding tanks and a pumping station for a long untreated sewage sea-outfall – these and the frontage to the harbour to be protected by three enormous offshore rock breakwaters.

The possibility of building these breakwaters had been previously explored with town councillors, but when the plans were unveiled just two months before the intended July 1989 planning application, many townspeople suspected ‘railroading’. Perhaps water board privatisation and looming EU regulations prohibiting raw sewage discharge explained some of the hurry?

Appalled by the breakwaters’ disastrous visual, economic and safety aspects, their likely ineffectiveness, and continuing sewage-in-the-sea, Lyme wouldn’t be bounced. A large protest meeting quickly resulted in COBB being formed, led by Stuart Case. Battling to smoke detail out of the authorities, firing letters to ministers and officials, and calling for a public enquiry, COBB initiated a town referendum which voted 97 per cent against the idea.

This stopped the proposals in their tracks, buying time for all sides to listen to each other. COBB set up the ‘Voluntary Advisory Group’, a technical team of local wisdom such as the former Deputy Borough Surveyor, geologists, engineers and fishermen with long experience of Lyme’s waters. In November their ‘back to the future’ plan advised restoring the self-scouring nature of the harbour, with longshore drift replenishing the beach.
Breakwaters abandoned

In August, a shaken district council had established a widely-representative ‘Lyme Regis Voluntary Advisory Panel’ to find alternatives to the breakwaters. This group (later evolving into the still-extant Coastal Forum) was led by the open-minded WDDC engineer Keith Cole, who took collaboration seriously and appreciated the significance of ‘amenity value’. The engineers analysed COBB’s proposal, eventually judging it technically impractical. But by May 1991 the unacceptable breakwaters were officially abandoned, replaced by plans for a phased scheme meeting concern for the appearance and utility of the seafront.

The enforced breathing space had other benefits. In 1990 sewage discharge to sea was outlawed: so the Uplyme treatment plant created a modern system with extended outfall and pumping works at Gun Cliff, protected by new seawall and promenade, completed as Phase I in January 1995. 

By 2004 government had come to accept that coast protection involved not just building sea walls but also managed beach replenishment and landward slope stabilising. Thus a recharged beach, slope drainage and pinning, with geomorphological understanding behind it, became fundamental to Phase II (the all-embracing scheme that’s protected the main front since 2007, proving itself so dramatically last winter) and to Phase IV, now almost complete.

Phase II had reduced the gardens to a muddy wasteland with a few carefully-preserved trees. It took Merry Bolton’s keen horticultural eye, examining the reinstatement plans for this unrivalled setting, to see that ideas from townspeople could enhance them: thousands of laurels below the Woodland Walk, for example, and over-use of ‘municipal planting’, would be inappropriate and costly to maintain.

So the longstanding Lyme Regis Environmental Group, chaired by Ken Whetlor, approached the district council, which understood the argument that “these are community gardens – the people of Lyme own them,” as Merry puts it. Drawing in a world-expert botanist, several skilled horticulturalists and an experienced entomologist – all local – the group worked with the council’s landscape architects who incorporated their more shrub-based planting to suit the site, encourage “bugs, birds and bats”, and minimise upkeep. We can all admire the results. It’s no surprise that Tony Benger Landscaping won a national award for implementing the design, nor that the U3A gardens group was inspired to help with planting and minor maintenance.

With seafront and gardens now stable, regenerating the derelict shelters also involved local volunteers. Although town council property, the district council in 1997 and 2002 commissioned engineers’ reports on their condition. LRTC’s ‘Shelters Working Group’ chose the option to ‘demolish and rebuild’, seeming to believe that demolition costs could be absorbed into WDDC’s Phase II. Optimistic! But – despite the Conservation Officer in 2005 drawing up a ‘project brief’ for redevelopment – the ‘working’ group forgot that demolition in a Conservation Area needs prior planning approval for replacement, a process they’d not even begun.

Challenge time again – now in 2006 from the Lyme Regis Society to Mayor Barbara Austin, who set a volunteer ‘Shelters Regeneration Working Group’, including several councillors, to work. Chaired by Stephen Wilkins, work they did, liaising closely with the council, for five years. They arranged an updated engineering report, led a major initial consultation and 72 small meetings about design and use with over 55 town organisations, compiled specifications, mounted exhibitions, held public meetings, sought an architect, struggled through the toils of Planning, and raised over £215,000 in additional funding.

These three undertakings were different in many ways, not just in scale – certainly Barbara Austin’s positive attitude was light-years from the attempt to impose a solution that faced the town in 1989. But in each case a public authority came to value the time and effort of local volunteers and, equally important, the knowledge and experience they offered.

Such partnership between ‘authority’ and ‘the people’ isn’t easy. Only self-confident and capable councils can handle it. Perhaps the present town council, while learning from its nearest neighbours, might also reflect on these examples.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Does politics work for locals?

IN all the years I have been doing this job (too many according to my critics out there), I can’t remember a time when there was so much dissatisfaction with local government. Why is this?

You won’t be surprised, but I have a theory. 

When I first started covering rural and borough councils  in East Devon and occasionally Devon County Council, 50 years ago, politics had very little to do with it. We were all aware that East Devon was predominantly blue but the focus was very much on serving the electorate.

Councillors got little or no expenses and the officers were not paid such exorbitant salaries.  Debates were not dominated by groups of politically affiliated councillors, with members of other political shades marginalised, and there were no grand titles such as “portfolio holders”. Matters were dealt with by committees where all councillors had an influence.

With the exception of town councils, being an  elected representative today is as much a career as it is a service for many. I am not denying the amount of hours our councillors at district and county level put in, or questioning their commitment to their communities, but generally they are compensated for their efforts, especially the more capable and ambitious members who climb the political  ladder. Some of them receive far in excess of the average weekly wage in this area.

I’m not talking about every councillor.  I noticed when Googling councillors expenses, when I started thinking about a theme for this week’s column, that one long serving councillor claimed only £12.50 last year.

Times change and the reorganisation to create the current three-tier system (county, district and parish/town) back in 1974 was deemed necessary. Like it or not, local government is in the politics game and it will always be that way.

This became clear to me last week after I compared the different interpretation being put on the summoning of EDDC chief executive Mark Williams to a Commons Select Committee to answer question on electoral procedures. Having read the Hansard transcript of proceedings, it didn’t seem to me that it was a wholly enjoyable experience for Mr Williams.

One district councillor emailed me to say he was “mildly disappointed” with the view I had taken but then, incredulously, went on to criticise the “tame” spin put out by his own council’s communications team.  His words, not mine.

Talk to most people and they have no real interest in local government (it was ever thus) but those who have are pretty disillusioned. Controversy rages in most of the towns in Pulman’s Country at the moment but there is little faith in the ability of our elected representatives to find solutions. 

I think there is also a degree of frustration among a number of long serving councillors, with some of them having already decided not to seek re-election when we go to the polls next May. The big question is: will their replacements do any better?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


LYME Regis resident David Sarson originally came from Reading in Berkshire and moved to the town nine years ago, having visited his father many times and fallen in love with the seaside town. David lives with his wife Erica. They have three children and three grandchildren. He is a member of the Rotary Club of Lyme Regis and the Royal Voluntary Service.

WHAT did you do before retirement?
Before I retired I spent most of my working career in sales and marketing, but the last 10 years I was self-employed as a franchisee in computer CD Roms and, ultimately, in book sales.  

HOW did you become involved with the Rotary Club?
I became involved in the Rotary Club of Lyme Regis only 18 months ago. I was introduced to the club by an existing member.

WHAT do you enjoy about being a member?
I enjoy the comradery, we are like an extended family or a good oiled working team. I am constantly meeting different people in all walks of life and, of course, it’s very self satisfying when you meet your challenge of raising money for the many charities, both home and overseas. I am forever taken back by people’s generosity.

DO you have any upcoming Rotary events?
We have three main events in our calendar for the next four months; Christmas collections in Lyme Regis and Charmouth, together with our annual Carols Around the Christmas Tree in Lyme Regis for Children's Hospice South West; The Formidable Lyme Lunge on January 1st for Help The Heroes and other Rotary charities; and a soup and ploughman's meal at the Alexandra Hotel on February 2nd for the charity Water Survival Box.

HOW did you become involved with the Royal Voluntary Service?
I became involved with the Royal Voluntary Service’s Befriending Scheme almost a year ago, initially through  Lyme Regis Development Trust.

WHAT is your role within the service?
I act as a volunteer co-ordinator for the charity, bringing volunteers and referrals together, covering Lyme Regis and Bridport areas. It is a very rewarding job, albeit challenging.

HOW would you encourage others to volunteer?
Our volunteers not only transform the lives of older people, it can change their own lives too. A couple of hours of volunteering makes you feel great, you meet some of the most interesting people in your own neighbourhood, building friendships and enjoying each others company.

ARE you a member of any other local organisations?
I am captain of Charmouth Bowls Club and also help out at the community Lyme lunches and am a member of the University of the Third Age. I also help Erica on our allotment.

WHAT do you like about Lyme Regis?
Lyme Regis is a beautiful town and we are also lucky enough to have in my view one of the best coastlines in the South West. The people of Lyme are very friendly and we have so much to offer with regards to choice and facilities in the town.

WHAT do you think it’s missing?
I do think perhaps that more people should be involved in their own community. Lyme Regis has so much to offer.   

WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery?
If I won the Lottery I would give a little monetary assistance to those Lyme groups who, at this present moment, are suffering through lack of funds, and then perhaps go on a short cruise if I get time!

Surely, it’s all a question of trust?

THE long love affair between Lyme Regis Development Trust and Lyme Regis Town Council seems to be over.

It was a long time coming.

The cracks in the relationship  which has delivered many benefits  to the town were more than evident at a recent meeting when trust representatives  David Gale and Peter Jeffs made a presentation to councillors.

The relationship has worn thin following two decisions made by the trust which have angered a number of councillors:  firstly, changes made to the community room in St Michael’s Business Centre, which is partly owned by the town council; secondly the decision to sell Monmouth House, a significant property in Monmouth Street providing affordable housing units which was given to the trust to manage. 

There was much talk in the town about an organisation which had worked hard at promoting affordable housing kicking tenants out onto the streets, but the trust argued that both Magna Housing and the Community Land Trust was not interested in taking on the building, the maintenance costs of which were now beyond the trust’s resources.

The bust-up over St Michael’s revolved around the trust converting the lobby area into separate interview rooms for their job club, which meant that people attending the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, had to wait for their appointment in the kitchen area.

Town councillors were miffed that, as a part owner of the building (they have an eight per cent share), they were not consulted on this matter.

And there were fears that the CAB, a much valued service in Lyme, were looking for alternative, less central accommodation, but I understand this is not the case and they are staying put.

There were some sharp exchanges between the trust representatives and councillors at a recent meeting in which Strategy and Policy chairman Mark Gage had to intervene.  Say what you like about Mark Gage - and I have - he’s always quick to ensure that his committee members are treated with respect.

The whole role of the development trust has come into question in recent weeks with my fellow columnist Chris Boothroyd  raising the relevance of its Lyme Forward arm at a recent meeting.

The relationship between the development trust and the town council has been the subject of confusion as far as the man in the street is concerned since its formation and has led to a number of “who’s running tnis town?” allegations over the years. But we should not forget what the trust has delivered, and particularly the role former chief executive Marcus Dixon played in setting up the Sure Start Centre, the organising of the Fossil Festival as a world renowned event and the establishment of The Hub youth club, to name just three.

In the final analysis, I think the development trust has been good for Lyme with a huge amount of voluntary effort going into the various projects. This newspaper has dedicated hundreds of column inches to their activities and ambitions over the years, some would say too many. 

Getting funding for such organisations has been difficult during the recession and this remains a great challenge for the developent trust, especially the funding of the community resource unit, LymeNet.

But it would seem that better communication between the town council and the trust is essential if the relationship is going to mature and continue to benefit the town.

NEWS that Lyme Regis could be losing another public house will be met with much sadness in the town - especially as it is a real locals’ boozer.

Plans are in the offing to turn the popular Nag’s Head in Silver Street into a bed and breakfast establishment with mine hosts Rob and Debbie Hamon taking much deserved retirement after many years dispensing hospitality and bonhomie across their bar.

If the planning application does go through and the property is sold, Lyme will be down to seven pubs. I think I’m right in saying that at one time the town had 13 hostelries and, in my lifetime, I have seen five  establishments close - the Dolphin in Mill Green, the London Inn in Church Street, the Victoria in Uplyme Road, the New Inn in Broad Street and the Angel in Mill Green.

With the Nag’s being slightly out of town, Rob and Debbie had to find a niche for their business - and that niche was establishing the Nag’s as the first port of call for locals, serving well-kept beers at reasonable prices, a home for the best darts players in town and regular music nights.

But they will be best remembered for the huge amount of money they have raised over the years for good causes. 

There can’t be many charities  in Lyme which have not benefited from their generous nature over the years and the total raised would run into tens of thousands of pounds.

They will be sadly missed.

PR guru and chief council critic Geoff Baker spends night with the Mayor. That’s the sort of sentence I never expected to write in this column. Fear not. It was all above board - to get a beach hut for Audrey Vivian.

Someone asked me if it was true that Geoff commandeered the duvet and Sal slept in the pillow case. Boom! Boom!