Wednesday, 20 November 2013
The confusing world of local politics
WHAT an interesting if confusing place the world of local politics is.
Two recent decisions saw chalets and other facilities at Greenhill, Weymouth, potentially prepared for having their leases put out on the open market as the council seeks to make savings while Weymouth Angling Society was only granted a three-year lease for its Commercial Road building despite extensive lobbying for a ten-year lease.
Now our councillors have an increasingly tough row to hoe because of Government cutbacks which have effectively seen the budget they manage shrivel from £13 million to about £9 million.
They must use that to somehow conjure up essential services and keep as many residents happy as possible, not an easy task and I have some sympathy with their dilemma.
However – and there always is an “however” – the two debates brought into focus the fact that sometimes it is possible to miss seeing the wood for the trees.
The chalets actually made money for years, so where has that gone and are there any unfortunate parallels between how the council used that cash and how it used the harbour cash….and we all know what happened with the harbour wall suddenly needing massive repairs.
The chalet scenario embraces the wider stumbling block that the council just can’t afford much needed repairs and is testing the market to see if a way forward can be found, something which didn’t cut much ice with the chalet owners.
Both they and the angling fraternity were bitterly critical of how the council interpreted “consultation” to the obvious embarrassment of our elected members, one of whom at least had the courage to publicly describe it as “an almighty cock-up”.
The anglers were not just angry but confused as well after having heard the council’s management committee say their new lease had to be three years to safeguard possible future development plans for that section of the harbourside.
Members told the anglers that three years was plenty because if no redevelopment emerged during that time then the three year lease could simply be extended.
All this is perfectly accurate but it seemed to gloss over the critical point made by the society that their operation to attract world class events to Weymouth frequently works as much as eight years ahead which was why they appealed for a ten-year lease.
A three-year restriction means they face an uphill if not impossible task to compete for such championships with rival venues which brings me to the single most important comment made in both debates.
No wonder councillors didn’t feel much like looking ten years ahead when vice-chairman Councillor Peter Chapman bravely refused to dodge talking about a dodgy future and warned that in ten years time there might not be a Weymouth and Portland authority because it could well have merged with another council.
He hammered that point home by highlighting another nasty reality that if it was hard now to convince Weymouth and Portland colleagues of the need for a ten-year lease then how much harder might it be a decade ahead with a merged council seeing local members trying to convince colleagues from as far away as Stuminster Newton that such a lease was justified.
His comments merely underline something I and many others have felt for a long time, namely that the Weymouth and Portland dog is increasingly being wagged by a West Dorset tail in Dorchester with the recent shared working between borough and district to jointly save money leading to that process being dominated by senior staff from West Dorset.
Only in local politics could a council in a town with 19,000 people seemingly hold the whip hand over another council looking after a town of more than 52,000 and an island with another 12,000.
It defies logic yet whoever said local or any form of politics was about logic.
IN today’s modern world the chance for a bit of peace and quiet is becoming increasingly rare.
So I’m bound to applaud South West Trains for setting aside one carriage on the Weymouth-Waterloo train where the use of mobile phones is banned and those with music appliances are asked to have consideration for fellow passengers and keep noise levels right down.
Unfortunately this great idea is being torpedoed by selfish travellers who either can’t read signs in the carriage or – more likely – only care about themselves and can’t be bothered to toe the line.
I selected a “quiet” carriageway precisely because I wanted to be able to read my book without noisy distraction.
What I got over the next three hours was up to a dozen people regaling the entire carriage with their conquests from the night before, who they were going to meet when they got off the train and, most incredible of all, useless conversation about how they were actually on a train!
Worst of all, they were actually gabbling away while sat underneath clearly displayed signs banning the use of mobile phones in this carriage.
So I would advise SWT that an occasional brief announcement, perhaps when pulling away from a train station, ramming home the message about “quiet please in quiet carriages” would be very helpful to those of us longing for a bit of peace.