Thursday, 27 October 2011

Honeymoon is over for new council

THE big decisions are coming thick and fast now for the new-look Lyme Regis Town Council.

The honeymoon for the new councillors is over and it seems to me they are relishing the opportunity to get stuck into some meaty matters which will have a big influence over the town and could define their first term of office.

The biggest decision of all will be whether to take back the lucrative Monmouth Beach car park from West Dorset District Council.

This land is owned by the town council but leased to the distrct for car parking. It brings in tens of thousands of pounds every year.

On the face ot it, this should be a no brainer. The land is owned by the town and it makes sense in these straightened financial times that the town should get the full financial benefit. But things are rarely that simple, especially when dealing with the district council.

Two exploratory meetings have already been held with district officials and a third is in the offing before a final decision is made. It was made clear in notes provided by town clerk Mike Lewis at last week’s Strategy and Policy Committee that these are not easy negotiations.

This is what the town clerk wrote: “Lyme representatives were left in no doubt that loss of considerable Monmouth Beach car park revenue would have serious consequences for the future of both the Tourist Information Centre operation and public conveniences in Lyme.”

In other words, the district are saying “take back the car park and you will have to run the TIC and toilets yourselves”.

And if that happens it will bring into play the vexed question of double rating. The cost of running the TIC and most of the toilets in town are financed through the community tax to which the people of Lyme contribute.

If WDDC decided to stop financing the TIC and give up the toilets, will our district council tax be reduced accordingly? No-one believes that will happen for one moment. If the town council take them on, we will be paying twice for them.

The district are insisting that any changes have got to be cost neutral to their coffers. That means if they lose revenue from the Monmouth Beach car park they will have to effect savings elsewhere in Lyme.

It seems to me that Strategy and Policy chairman Mark Gage and his negotiating team are going about this in a very measured way, making no rash statements or promises.

He told councillors last week that they were hoping to make progress when the two parties meet for a third time.

Let’s hope the final outcome is fair to the council taxpayers of Lyme Regis.

If the town council is to continue giving ongoing financial support to the Marine Theatre and The Hub, and the many other calls on their finances, increased revenue from car parking could prove to be crucial.

Other big decisions on the agenda? One has already been taken. The old council had reservations about leasing land to the museum for their extension, but the new members wasted no time in granting an 80-year lease over the Guildhall car park last week.

And then there’s the question of imposing fees on the traders on the Marine Parade for displaying their goods or putting out tables and chairs for customers.

This is a decision that has been long coming but could not be resolved until the tripartite agreement on the future management of the parade had been sorted.

Cobb traders have been paying for their al fresco arrangements for some time and the council is anxious to bring other seafronttraders into line and to ensure easy passage along the parade for pedestrians.

Traders turned up in force at last week’s council meeting, calling on councillirs to be fair and not to price them out of business.

This is one subject that we will be hearing much more about in the coming weeks.

As I say, the honeymoon is over.


IT'S good to see the relationship developing between St Michael’s Parish Church and the musical community in Rogaska Slatina, the town where our magnificent new church organ was built.

On Saturday evening the church played host to the Rogaska Slatina Ladies Choir of Slovenia, who are celebrating their 30th anniversary. Last year their male counterparts also visited Lyme to give a concert, among them Anton Skrabl, the organ maker.

The ladies choir presented a delightful musical programme which included a number of national Slovenian songs with some of their members dressed in national costume. They even brought their own accordian player.

It was a flying visit with the choir arriving at Heathrow on Friday and then being driven down to Lyme in mini-buses by organ appeal chairman Andrew Nicholson and his wife Linda. They stayed in the homes of church members but were assembled for a traditional English breakfast in the Church Hall on Saturday morning with the Vicar, the Reverend Jane Skinner, helping with the cooking.

The ladies of the choir returned to London on Sunday for their flight home on Monday. They have now extended an invitation to St Michael’s Church choir to visit Slovenia in the future.

During the concert I was able to present Andrew with a cheque for £500, making a total so far of £1,000 from the publishing of my book, 'From Slovenia With Love', which chronicles the story of how a small town in Dorset was able to commission and pay for one of the best organs in the UK with our old organ finding its way back to Bosnia.

After the concert the ladies of the choir hosted a traditional Slovenian supper to round off an enjoyable evening.

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