Wednesday, 25 January 2012

I’m not the only one who cares

WHEN I took a stance against what I thought was a flagrant disregard of democracy in the Lyme Regis council chamber a couple of weeks ago, I must admit I wondered whether anyone else cared a flying fig.

You will recall that I declined to publish a statement issued by the council challenging comments that long-serving councillor Owen Lovell had made about the budget for the financial year. In a nutshell, Councillor Lovell, the most experienced council member, highlighted a number of costs which he thought could be trimmed to reduce the council precept.

No one challenged his argument – not the mayor, town clerk or chairman of the budget-setting committee, Mark Gage. And the budget was subsequently approved without debate with only councillors Lovell, Michaela Ellis and Ann Bradbury opposing.

A few days later I got a statement from the council challenging the view put forward by Councillor Lovell. It was an unprecedented move; in decades of covering Lyme council meetings I had never witnessed such a situation before, nor had any of the other long-serving councillors, past and present.

My only conclusion was the new council did not wish to enter into a debate on Councillor Lovell’s suggestions because they knew they would win the vote.

Usually, the town clerk would answer any counter arguments to the budget procedure. I have my own views why he did not do so but it would be inappropriate to express them here.

After deciding not to publish the statement, I informed the town clerk I would be happy to print it in full but only if it was read out in the democratic arena, i.e. the council chamber.

As I say, I wondered whether any one else cared a jot. So I have been amazed at the number of people, some of whom I’m only on nodding terms, have come up to me to say thanks for standing up for local democracy.

Last week’s View contained a letter from Lyme resident John Hounsell, a keen observer of council matters, supporting my stance and expressing his opinion that the new council was intent on getting its own way with little debate.

This has been dismissed by some as “just a letter from one of Pip Evans’ mates”. Not so. Whilst I respect Mr Hounsell’s views, we are not exactly busom pals; in fact, I have only ever had two or three conversations with him.

I appreciate my stance has made me about as popular as an Italian cruise line captain in the Lyme council chamber, but I think it’s important that when every proposition seems to go through on the nod ten votes to four, it’s important that someone is questioning the decision making process of our elected representatives. And it’s even more important that they defend those decisions.

THERE is never a good time to close a road from a traders’ viewpoint, but I suppose if it has to happen then closing Church Street, the main thoroughfare into the town centre, in January is as good a time as any.

Church Street is about half-way through an eight-week closure order for necessary repairs to be made to the Guildhall and a new roof put on The Hub youth club.

At least five other property owners in Church Street and Bridge Street have taken the opportunity to erect scaffolding and carry out repairs.

No one begrudges The Hub having a new roof, essential for getting the new club up and running, but the length of closure is causing real concern.

Trade is virtually non existent in the town centre and I heard this week, on good authority, that one shop took just £1.74 in a day with two staff on duty.

It’s good to see the Lyme Traders’ Organisation being reformed with local restaurateur Tony Colston at the helm, and well done to Rikey Austin for making this happen.

The LTO have already put pressure on Dorset County Council to improve signage at crucial points in and around the town to emphasise that Lyme is still open for business.

When this sort of thing happens it’s essential that the trading community has a strong voice and I’m sure LTO under new and enthusiastic leadership will achieve a great deal in the future for the trading community.


EVENT of the week as far as Lyme Regis is concerned took place 4,000 miles from these shores.

There were scenes of real joy in Barbados when “The Spirit of Corinth” crossed the finishing line in the Altantic Challenge with the Lyme crew securing sixth place and having written themselves into the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest crew ever to row across the Atlantic.

When they finally made it into Barbados harbour - the finishing line was another six gruelling miles from shore - they were greeted by family members and a few other locals who were holidaying in the West Indies.

Tears and much laughter, no doubt, and no one who knows the four rowers - Chris Walters, Elliott Dale, Tony Short and Brian Fletcher - were surprised that they made straight for the nearest bar for a cold beer and steak meal.

How good that steak must have tasted after 48 days on sea rations.

Whilst all this was going on in Barbados, a group of wellwishers had gathered at the Cobb to mark this wonderful achievement, organised by Geoff Baker and Jill Newton.

The celebrations will, of course, continue when the intrepid four return home over the next couple of weeks and witness how proud the whole town is of their adventure on the high seas.

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