Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Will the old Aldermanic bench survive?

WHEN I first started reporting in the mid-1960s the Guildhall in Lyme Regis not only provided a meeting place for the old Borough Council but also acted as the local magistrates’ court.

In those days, the mayor also acted as chairman of the bench and the last First Citizen to carry out these duties, I believe, was the late Alderman Douglas Fortnam.

The mayor presided over the court proceedings, handing out fines for minor offences, perched high on the Aldermanic bench from where the mayor stills presides over council meetings.

It has been customary down the years for the deputy mayor to sit on the right hand side of the mayor, with the longest serving councillor to the left.

It was interesting to note that when Stan Williams recently returned to the council chamber at the age of 79, he immediately took his seat next to the mayor, creating a few raised eyebrows. Councillor Williams, of course, served as a borough and town councillor for more than 40 years before he lost his seat at the last full election, returning after winning the recent by-election caused by the resignation of Jill Newton.  

Before his return, the vacant place on the Aldermanic bench was taken by the council’s other longest serving member, Owen Lovell.

I started thinking about the lay-out of the Guildhall after reading in the council minutes that consideration is being given to the reconfiguration of the meeting area.

A few councillors have been moaning about how uncomfortable the benches are and a surveyor’s report has been commissioned.

I suspect there are a few who sit in the chamber that think it a tad elitist for the mayor and senior councillors to sit above them and would prefer a seating arrangement where all members are on the same level, visually at least if not intellectually. 

The Guildhall, of course, is one of Lyme’s most historic buildings and from a planning viewpoint any internal changes will be a drawn out affair.

Of course, it may well be possible to keep the Aldermanic bench for historic purposes only and also reorganise the meeting area. 

In any changes that are planned the council should also make sure there is an adequate sound system so that the public can hear what they are saying, which is not always the case with the current lay-out.

I THINK most people in Lyme will agree that one of the greatest benefits of the coastal protection works in recent years has been the stabilising and enhancement of our public gardens. 

Lyme is indeed fortunate to have the Lister and Langmoor Gardens, a favourite with visitors who are able to escape from the hub-bub of the beach and spend some quiet time enjoying the magnificent views over Lyme Bay. Long may that be the case.

But moves are afoot to make some changes to the gardens with the town council considering a number of ideas.

They have already decided to close the putting green, a sedate attraction in the gardens for more than 60 years, in the light of falling revenues (around £1,500 only last year).  

There is talk of introducing some children’s play equipment and the possibility of a cafe and toilet which has been under consideration for a number of years.

Of course, the mini-golf is the big money spinner in the gardens, bringing in more than £60,000 every year with the outdoor table tennis tables contributing around £3,000.

A couple of years ago I wrote to the council, on behalf of Cancer Research UK and suggested that facilities for the French pastime of petanque (boules) could be accommodated at the back of the attendant’s hut. 

We offered to provide the materials, labour and equipment free of charge and suggested that the council share the proceeds of a 50-50 basis with Cancer Research, so giving our fundraising branch a regular income and also boosting the council’s takings as well as providing another attraction for the visitors. I got an acknowledgement but have heard nothing since. We live in hope. 

Whatever changes the council introduce, I hope they will protect the much lauded peaceful atmosphere that prevails in the gardens.

No, this doesn’t mean I’m retiring!

THANK you to all those who sent me messages of goodwill after I wrote last week about the excellent care I received on a recent visit to the Dorset County Hospital in Dorchester.

What was abundantly clear was that mine was not an isolated experience; many of you shared my view that we are extremely lucky to have a hospital on our doorstep with such high standards.

Others of you queried whether my visit to hospital might encourage me to retire. Sorry to disappoint you, the the treatment I received was long overdue and constituted no more than a 'minor procedure,' although I didn’t think that at the time.

The notes they give you on leaving hospital recommend four to six weeks off work. I was back at my desk the day after I came out (well I am not digging roads, am I?) and have managed to put in a full day’s work every day since.

So retirement is not an option. When it is, you’ll be the first to know.

RECENTLY in this column I mentioned that fantastic turn out at the switching on of Lyme’s Christmas lights, dedicated to the late Barbara Austin MBE. I mentioned that Barbara’s four sons were present but it was remiss of me not to have included daughter Jane. My sincere apologies.

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