Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Guildhall or the Marine - no contest really!

THERE were two very different events taking place in Lyme Regis last Thursday evening, just 30 metres away from each other.

In the Guildhall the ancient mayor-making ceremony, which has changed very little over the years, was taking place as Sally Holman was installed, somewhat controversially,  for a third year of her second term of office as our First Citizen. 

Just across the way, in the Marine Theatre, Lyme Regis Operatic Society, one of the town’s oldest organisations, were presenting their 78th annual production, “Calamity Jane”.

I chose to attend the latter but don’t read anything into that. I was NOT boycotting the mayor-making, from which 50 per cent of councillors were absent, all for genuine reasons I am sure.

The fact is that as I rarely cover council meetings these days, I have not attended mayor-making for three years.

Over the years I have either proposed or responded to every speech at the reception which follows the installation of mayor, so I felt that it was an occasion which had had its fair share of my opinions. 

Daughter Francesca, who now covers 90 per cent of the council debates, replied to the toast to the press, proposed by new councillor Jill Newton, no stranger to the media world, and I understand both made a good job of it.  

I also felt it would be hypocritical in the extreme of me to have accepted an invitation to speak at mayor-making when a large section of the council (the majority in fact) are fairly ambivalent towards me because of the criticism aimed at them from time to time in this column.

That comes with the territory and I have no one to blame other than myself. 

There was much talk in the town before the mayor-making about a group of councillors, who did not support Sally Holman being given a third year in the mayoral chair, boycotting the occasion.

And whilst seven members of the council did not attend, five of those tendered their apologies due to illness and holidays. I do think it was a shame that the council’s two most influential and high profile councillors, Strategy and Policy Committee chairman Mark Gage and his vice-chairman Lucy Campbell, were not present at one of the highlights of the council calendar, without offering apologies, but I am sure they had their reasons.

In past years any animosity between members - and believe me it is not as bad now as it was when I first started covering the council in the late 1960s - has been put aside for the mayor-making ceremony. It’s all about honouring the position of mayor and not necessarily the person being installed.

Sally Holman agreed, somewhat reluctantly I have to say, to allow her name to go forward for a third year because there is such a split in the council ranks and she fully appreciated that some flak would come her way if successful.

Some council members believe that the split is in my imagination - but believe me it exists - and they know it.

Whilst it is customary for one person to be given a two-year term as mayor, there have been a number of examples in the past when councillors have served for three successive years.

Mark Gage has been open and honest in expressing his views at the last town meeting that he would prefer a system whereby the role of mayor and council chairman is separated. He believes it will improve the efficiency of the council, allowing the mayor to handle all the ceremonial duties whilst the chairman (or leader) can concentrate on running the day-to-day affairs of the council.

If Mark is re-elected as Strategy and Policy chairman this evening (and I hear there could well be a challenge), I expect him to put forward such a proposal before the end of the current council’s life span (2015).

The lack of half the council, I understand, had no real detrimental effect on the enjoyment of mayor-making and I hear the social gathering at the football club after the ceremony was a happy occasion.

Meanwhile, across the way, those attending the third night of “Calamity Jane”, virtually a sell-out audience, were praising the talent on the Marine Theatre stage.

I’ve been covering amateur drama and musical shows for not far off 50 years and was once told by a leading local performer that I did not know the difference between a conductor’s batten and an elephant’s backside (though he did not use the word backside!).

But I can say without fear of contradiction that “Calamity Jane” was one of the most entertaining amateur productions I have seen - and there were many in the Marine on Thursday night who agreed, if the response of the audience was any indication.

Mayor-making versus “Calamity Jane”? There was no contest.

Fresh thinking on traffic issue

AN interesting debate at the council’s Planning and Highway Committee last week on what to do about Lyme’s escalating traffic problems. Two buses getting stuck in Church Street is now almost a daily occurrence - it happened again yesterday (Tuesday). 

Newcomer Jill Newton did her best to inject some fresh thinking into this thorny problem. I have no idea whether her idea of a third set of traffic lights outside the London Inn working in tandem with those at Long Entry will work but the big challenge will be to get such a project on the county council’s priority funding list.

I can see that new county councillor Daryl Turner is going to get a real baptism of fire over this issue - but knowing Daryl he will be ready for the onslaught.

Terry O’Grady got it just about right when he said nothing will happen until someone is seriously hurt in Church Street and his idea of hatched yellow boxes is one also worth further consideration.

Whilst on the subject of the county council, congratulations to Daryl who at his first meeting at County Hall was elected chairman of the Licensing and Registration Committee and vice-chairman of Roads and Rights of Way Committee. Rarely has a newly-elected member been given such responsibility so early in his county career. 

Lyme should be mighty proud of him.

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