Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Laughter is the best medicine

OVER the years I have spent what seems like half a lifetime sitting in doctors’ surgeries and hospital outpatient departments.

During those interminable waits, usually with my nose sunk in a book, I have seen people angry, furious, asleep and in despair, but just recently I saw a hugely welcome funnier side to a scenario that must be so familiar to so many patients.

I was at Dorset County Hospital getting the fantastic news that my third post-cancer op blood test was negative when the whole corridor became aware that patients already packed into seating would have to wait even longer, some of them up to an hour.

There were a few groans but the overwhelming reaction turned to smiles and even laughter after a member of staff relayed an important piece of news.

Apparently one of the patients waiting to be seen had a list of local Premier Inns in case we really were there for a long time!

It was just the right comment to defuse the situation. The queues soon improved and will be forgotten but the comment will live on for a good while.

Trials and tribulations of triathlon tragedy!

'PROFESSIONAL' suggests someone who leaves nothing to chance in the pursuit of success.

But sometimes success – or failure – can depend on the smallest of mistakes as one professional found out in Weymouth.

It was the Challenge Weymouth triathlon, that Mecca for all round sportsmen and women involving a 3.8km swim and a crippling 180km bike ride all rounded off with a gruelling 42.2km run.

With so much heart-thumping effort involved no entrant was going to leave anything to chance including, the one we are focussing on who had made the giant investment of a £10,000 state of the art bike and the slightly smaller but no less important outlay of a top of the range helmet, power drinks and energy bars.

He even had specialist trainers already clipped on to pedals so he could come out of the water and get back on his bike with minimum delay. Nothing had been left to chance.

So it must have been a bit of bad luck that let him down, something stewards spotted but could neither change nor warn him about because of the rules.

We can only guess at what his face must have looked like when he strode from the water and jumped on his bike... only to find that his right trainer was clipped to the left pedal and his left trainer was clipped to the right pedal!

A mis-spent youth?

BATTEN down the hatches and check your ear muffs because November 5th is less than six days away.

Gunpowder, treason and plot is just boring stuff that many little hooligans couldn’t give a Fawkes about.

Oh no. They’re much more interested in the explosive side of things: how to blow up next door’s greenhouse rather than the Houses of Parliament even if the latter idea has more merit.

And what budding anarchist could resist an experiment using a rocket to fire Dad’s socks off the washing line into the sky? Well they might dry faster, Mum!

Excitement is just the scratch of a match away and it’s all made more daring because of that shiver created by the whiff of lawlessness.

My moment came nearly half a century ago when a friend invited me round to a firework party in his Dad’s orchard.

He was already a budding chemist and knew that weedkiller and sugar was the key, so he suggested using some to see if we could blow up a metal pipe hidden artfully away at the base of an apple tree.

The satisfying results went beyond our wildest dreams with the pipe blasted to smithereens in a thunderclap explosion and a howl of shrapnel.

We felt sure it hadn’t been that loud and thought we could pass it off as a bang from someone else’s party.

Just one flaw in our plan. A few minutes after our bomb went off the apple tree crashed to the ground. We weren’t allowed anywhere near so much as a sparkler for the rest of the night!

Road users’ remedy

A NEW advanced course for retarded drivers has been launched at Weymouth Railway Station.

The course offers those drivers already proficient in lunatic manoeuvres a chance to fine tune their talents, which regularly are witnessed at the King Street site.

Drivers will be taught how to pull out in front of fellow motorists without warning or even a signal, how to park in the most anti-social way possible, taking two spaces while parking at an angle.

Other tuition includes a sub-section for pedestrians on how to walk straight across to the middle of the car park and can stand aimlessly, blocking all drivers trying to leave.

Organisers are hoping that the PLOD course – Pathetic Losers On Display – will be of interest to the police for a few endorsements.

After all, we are all citizens of Lyme

ONE of the unfortunate fall-outs from the rumpus in Lyme Regis over the council’s ambivalence towards skateboarding and cycling in public areas has been the backlash of insults aimed at “incomers”. 

It was a reference to those members on the town council who voted in favour, when agreeing new local bylaws, to allow  skateboarding and cycling along Marine Parade and other public spaces, including the cemetery, the latter causing an absolute furore on the social networking websites.

One angry Facebook contributor even went as far to call them “grockles”,  a less than complimentary term for visitors.

The councillors who incurred the wrath of so many were the usual suspects - Mark Gage, Lucy Campbell, Terry O’Grady,  Chris Clipson, Rikey Austin and Lorna Jenkin.  It is true that, in the complete sense of the word, they are incomers, but some have lived in the town for many years, especially Lucy and Lorna.

Those who opposed it were councillors with stronger local ties, including Lyme-born Stan Williams, and Cheryl Reynolds.

We don’t want to get into that old chestnut about how long you have to live in Lyme to become a “local” but it is often said that if you kick one Lyme Regian or Lymite, or whatever anyone born in the town is called, we all limp. It’s the same in all small towns.

After launching the View From Lyme Regis, the town’s most successful paper ever, I spent five or more years attending virtually every event in town. Very often the only other familiar face their was Ken Gollop, another Lyme-boy, and we would often play “spot the local”. 

I rarely attend meetings in Lyme anymore; that pleasant duty has been passed to my daughter, Francesca, who today is named at the new View From Lyme Regis editor, a job she has been doing for several months. 

But don’t get too excited, I am not releasing the reins completely and will stay as group editor as well as managing the company.

The fact is that without “incomers” Lyme would be a much different, perhaps less vibrant,  town. I often hear the complaint: “They come here and want to change the town.” That’s rarely the case.

The most successful town councils down the years have been those where there is a good balance of locally-born members and those who have moved to Lyme. Perhaps that split has been too one sided in recent years. 

My fellow columnist Chris Boothroyd, himself an “incomer”, has waxed lyrical about the volunteers who contribute so much to the life of Lyme. 

The vast majority of these are those who have moved or retired to the town and have given freely of their expertise. Lyme has benefited greatly from this in recent years.

Among them I would include Chris, of course, who did so much to see the Jubilee Pavilion through to completion; Dennis Yell, who is leading the Community Land Trust;  David Gale, who supervises the property arm of Lyme Regis Development Trust;  Alan and Lynn Vian, whose contribution to the community life of Lyme Regis would fill every column in this newspaper; and Dave Edwards, a driving force at the Marine Theatre and Regatta and Carnival stalwart.

The issue of “incomers” being automatically associated with unpopular decision making was highlighted when I bumped into one such person last week.  He did not wish to be named or indeed get embroiled in the recent arguments by writing a letter defending his fellow incomers.

But he felt affronted by the term and that he had been labelled such when he works hard behind the scenes, without fuss or publicity, on various community projects.
“Lymeites” or “incomers” – is there a difference?  After all, we are all Citizens of Lyme.  

Helping the young to live in their home town . . .

HATS off to the small group of well-intentioned Lyme citizens who make up the Community Land Trust.

The CLT is a non-profit voluntary body committed to finding suitable sites to create affordable housing, much needed in Lyme Regis. 

The average price of a house in Lyme is £375,000 so what chance do the young people of this town have to get on the property ladder? None.

With limited social housing available, it’s an obvious but often stated view that unless a solution can be found to enable young people to remain in their hometown, Lyme will become a dormitory for the elderly. 

Led by Denis Yell, the CLT have been working hard behind the scenes for the last two years to find a suitable site for a development of affordable rented homes, not an easy task given Lyme’s geographical challenges and lack of town centre undeveloped land.

With the help of town councillor Lorna Jenkin (secretary and treasurer) and directors Keith Jenkin, Brian Rattenbury and Richard McLaughlin, they’ve kept well out of the way of local politics that often stymie such projects, and have come up with a site near the golf club which will provide 15 new homes and a commitment that these should be occupied by local people.

The site is a fair way out of town but near a bus stop and is a significant step towards the provision of housing for the young of Lyme.

The CLT team are to be congratulated and encouraged to continue their good work.  


STEPHEN Yates is a keen traveller and painter living and working in Beaminster after retiring from a career of over 40 years in teaching. He grew up in North Yorkshire and qualified as a teacher, graduating from Nottingham University in 1974, and became head of art and design at Colfox School. He now runs a small business venture called arti2 and is currently trekking across the Great Wall of China.

I UNDERSTAND you have taken part in Dorset Art Weeks and Sculptures By the Lake, how did you get into art?
At the age of about seven I became aware that I had a gift and was often chosen to do special work at school. My mother spent hours with me as a child and still encourages me.  As a full-time teacher one gets little time to explore one’s own work, so after retirement three years ago I began working much harder at my own work. The exposure to galleries and exhibitions has gradually increased and I was selected to take part in the first UK “Quick Draw” painting at Sculpture by The Lakes. I had to paint a large canvas in 90 minutes, which was auctioned that evening!

ARE you currently working towards any exhibitions in the near future?
Just local exhibitions but belonging to a project called “Interrogating Landscapes and Seascapes” is an exciting challenge with many other artists involved. It would be great if gallery owners spent as much time and effort as artists to look at emerging artists too.

COULD you tell us more about the “Interrogating Landscapes and Seascapes” project?
The basic principal is to get back to drawing and making marks to collect information in sketchbooks and to re use these images later to create artwork. Artists were offered a broad scope of themes adaptable to any media or artistic genre including craft, design, sound, writing, moving image, as well as historical or scientific interpretations. The main difference for me was the interaction with other artists, about fourteen artists from all over Dorset were involved and two exhibitions were produced at Bridport Arts Centre. There is more at the website

YOU are also embarking on a trek across the Great Wall of China, tell us a bit about that - how did it come about?
I have raised money for NSPCC for the past few years, running the London Marathon in 2012 and helping them develop their schools project too. Vulnerable children need to be able to use childline and access help. It will be a challenge and I get to see a different culture and terrain and the Terracotta Warriors!  You can still sponsor me at

SO you like to get out and about and take on a challenge?
Yes, since early childhood the Yorkshire Dales and the Moors were all in easy reach. I began camping and backpacking in my early teens. In my career as a teacher I was involved in outdoor pursuits, mountain leadership, sailing and the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme and encouraged young people to explore the Northern Uplands. On my arrival in Dorset I established a group and Dartmoor was our fix for expeditions. I still enjoy the many local coastal walks and the West Dorset countryside and combine this with my love of painting landscapes and seascapes. We live on a beautiful planet, which we all need to get out more and enjoy.  

WHAT do you like to do in your spare time?
I volunteer lifeguard services at Bfit Beaminster and sail a wayfarer dingy from Castle Cove Sailing Club in Weymouth. I love to travel and my first grandson, Brynley, and son and daughter-in-law, Peter and Adrienne, live in Canada BC, so I get to ski in the winter too!

WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery?
Continue to enjoy every day as I do now and probably own a property, boat and studio in a much warmer climate. 

IF you could live your life again, what would you do?
Just live life to the full!

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

It’s a straight fight between the two

IN the end it’s going to come down to what no one wants to admit. The retention of in-patient hospital beds for the Axe Valley is a straight fight between Axminster and Seaton hospitals.

No one wishes to pitch town against town for health services – but that’s the bottom line here as those running clinical services in East Devon grapple with an ever-increasing demand and £14 million overspend.

Both hospitals are rightly highly regarded. But any hopes that both could retain in-patient beds were well and truly sunk at last week’s public meeting organised as part of the consultation process by the NHS’s Northern, Eastern and Western Devon Clinical Commissioning Group, known as the NEW CCG (they love acronyms in the NHS).

As expected, there was another full house in Axminster Guildhall, packed with people concerned about the future of their hospital. The big fear is that if the beds in Axminster go, it will only be a matter of time before the X-ray unit and other facilities disappear and the hospital will be closed.

Although this meeting was organised by the NEW CCG, it was the League of Friends of Axminster Hospital which made sure the maximum number of local people could hear the arguments for and against by relaying the proceedings via the wonders of technology to the nearby Minster Church where a further 80 people listened and watched the speakers in action, breaking out in polite applause from time to time.

Ah, if only so many turned up on a Sunday morning, church officials must have been thinking.

The NEW CCG panel handled two hours of intense questioning well but rarely wavered from their preference for the beds to be retained at Seaton. Ottery St Mary doctor Simon Kerr, I thought, was star of the show, honest and pragmatic at all times.

The more difficult questions fell to Sidmouth doctor Mike Slott, whose brusque manner irritated a few in the audience, but, in usual GP fashion, he did not mince his words, making it clear that “things had to change”. And so they will.

The finance bod, playing a purely supportive role, looked like a man who was struggling with a £14.6 million deficit in funding clinical services in East Devon.

In general the audience, to their credit, behaved. Mayor Jeremy Walden said he was convinced it was not a  “done deal” and town, district and county council Andrew Moulding made an impassioned plea for there to be 18 beds retained at both hospitals. That will not happen.

In the end it will come down to where the need is greater – Axminster or Seaton.  The NHS has plumped for Seaton.  Axminster argues that the NHS figures for Axminster are undercooked with no recognition of the town’s wider hinterland and planned expansion, not to mention the number of people from Lyme and Charmouth who use the hospital facilities. 

And there can be no denying that the general medical facilities at Axminster Hospital are far superior to those at Seaton.

The meeting was well chaired by Steve Holt, treasurer of the LoF (now I’m at it) who finished proceedings by presenting a well thought out rebuttal report counteracting the argument for Seaton.  The panel agreed to reconsider their figurework. We can only hope the mayor is right – that it is not “a done deal”.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

60 SECOND INTERVIEW: Christine James

CHRISTINE James was born in Benfleet, near Canvey Island, in Essex and, when she left school, her first job was window dressing in a Knightsbridge shoe shop. Since then she has done a huge variety of jobs from an RAC messenger to making concrete posts. She was even a kiss-o-gram although she said ‘I only did it once’. Christine went on to qualify as a driving instructor in 2003, a job she still pursues. She is a borough councillor and the current Deputy Mayor of Weymouth and Portland.

WHY do you live in Weymouth?
Circumstances at the time brought me here – it was the weekend of Princess Diana’s funeral and I have lived here ever since.

WHERE do you go for your holidays?
What’s a holiday? I haven’t had one for three years. The last place I went to was Turkey with friends and it was OK. If I did get a holiday I have family all over the world so I might go to New York.

WHAT is your favourite time of the year?
I like all seasons but I suppose autumn because I was born in the autumn and I like the colours and the crispness of the air.

WHAT is your favourite film?
I quite like the Die Hard movies with Bruce Wills, a proper man doing proper man’s stuff!

WHAT is the scariest thing that has ever happened to you?
Having a heart attack and not knowing I’d had one. I hadn’t been feeling well, went to the doctor and was given an electro cardiogram. When they got the results I was immediately sent to hospital and told I’d had a heart attack. That was a bit scary as at the time I ran, cycled and swam a lot and got told I had to take life a little easier which is hard.

IF you could live your life again what would you be?
I think I would love to be a singer, dancer or actress. I love to sing and dance although I’m not great, but I’d love to be good enough to make a career out of it, especially acting.

WHICH three people would you invite to your dream dinner party?
I would love to invite Sherlock Holmes because I am quite a logical thinker like him, Queen Victoria because I would be really interested in her views on the current royal family and, lastly, I’d invite Margaret Thatcher because she provokes debate whether good or bad.

WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery?
I would make sure all my children and grand-children were looked after and disappear to a desert island for a few months where no-one could find me... as long as I had a rowing boat to get me back to people when I wanted!

WHAT do you hope the future holds?
I hope that Britain can become British again. We have to embrace multi-culturalism but not at the expense of losing our British character and what is essentially British.

Skatepark funding should be fair to all 

THE uproar over the town council’s affirmation of cycling and skateboarding along the seafront, and indeed in all council-owned grounds, including the cemetery, has thrown the spotlight on a wider issue – namely the pending construction of a £150,000 skatepark on the Charmouth Road car park.

This council – at least a majority of them – have been committed to delivering a skatepark for the young people of Lyme Regis - after a debate that had raged for more than 30 years -  before they go the polls next May.

In that time a temporary skatepark was erected in the Lister Gardens and a number of potential sites have been considered including Monmouth Beach and the Anning Road playing field, neither of which were deemed acceptable.

The final selection of a site in the district council–owned car park in Charmouth Road, adjacent to the allotments – was never considered to be the ideal location but the only one available.

In his explosive Council Sketch column last week, Geoff Baker referred to the meeting last April when the council decided to finance the total cost of building the skatepark from their reserves, the only council in this area to do so.Geoff, in his inimitable style, described it as a “back slapping, self-congratulatory” decision. The council chamber was full of skateboaders and supporters, some of whom heaped generous praise on the council for finally delivering for the skateboarding youngsters of Lyme.

The Guildhall audience was staged managed, of course, as is mostly the case when a big issue is to be discussed to put councillors under pressure or to make a point.  Nothing new in that. At that time it was hoped that the skatepark would be up and running by this Christmas.  That prediction is looking a tad optimistic, especially as an application for planning permission has only just gone in after two false starts which councillors described as “frustrating”. “Careless” would be a better word.

At this rate it could well be touch and go if the skatepark is completed before next May’s election, especially as there is likely to be strong opposition from neighbours in Charmouth Road. 

There are two other big issues surrounding the skatepark. The first is the transfer of land from the district council and whether the negotiations over the lucrative Monmouth Beach car park will have any effect on WDDC giving up further car parking space at Charmouth Road. 

As I understand it, the district council have not yet transferred the land but intend to do so when the planning application has been approved, as I’m sure it will.   But there are concerns at Dorchester about the loss of up to 50 car parking spaces which could cost WDDC between £30,000 and £50,000 in lost revenue  every year.

The other concern is why Lyme did not seek any grant aid from WDDC or the National Lottery. WDDC has made a contribution to all the other skateparks in West Dorset, but Lyme council decided to pay for the park by using their combined resources, previously allocated to various other projects in the town.

I applaud the council for their determination to deliver the skatepark, although like many others I have doubts about how many youngsters will use the facility, but they should finance the project in the most cost effective manner for all sections of the community by offering match funding, i.e. agreeing to contribute £75,000 if the skateboarders raised a similar amount through fundraising and grant aids.

This is a view shared by many in town, some of whom are reluctant to complain and be labelled anti-youth or to decry the fundraising efforts of new councillor Cheryl Reynolds,who has worked so hard  for the cause in recent times.

The chosen method of funding the skatepark is perfectly legal – but is it fair to all council taxpayers in Lyme? 

You will have to make your own mind up on that one.

A final hiccup in the long running church railings saga . . .

LAST week in this column I wrote about the long running saga of the church railings and praised the town council for funding the project.

I was prompted to do so because several people mentioned to me how nice the new Portland stone coping stones looked.  But it would seem that those same people were left scratching  their heads when they realised that some of the crumbling  old blue lias coping stones were being retained, contrasting badly with the pristine Portland stone.  It looked ridiculous.

Questions were asked at last week’s Town Management meeting, chaired by Chris Clipson, whom I praised for keeping his promise to deliver the new railings at St Michael’s Parish Church during the life of this PR-gaff proned council.

The reason, curious councillors were told, was that they had been told that as much of the old wall/railings had to be retained.

However, I am now informed that the contractors have been told to take out the old blue lias stones and to complete the wall with Portland stone coping stones.

I understand that the church was inundated with complaints about the stupidity of mixing the two.  Several locals came into our office drawing attention to it, posing the question “If the powers that be wanted to retain some of the old ones, why did they not chose new blue lias stones?”

I am also told by a church official that the final scheme agreed with planners and the diocese was exactly the same as that mooted when it was first agreed that the railings needed replacing – in 1994. Twenty years ago!

Remembering on Remembrance Day

THERE are only 18 days left until Remembrance Sunday when the nation pays its respects to the fallen.

Their names can be found on memorials in the heart of cities or the heart of the countryside. It doesn’t matter which because the message is the same. This person gave their life for their country, their today for our tomorrow, accepting death that freedom might live.

Those sacrifices were sometimes given on such a scale that whole villages were virtually wiped out, entire friends’ groups decimated, with more than one million alone dying during the First World War’s Battle of the Somme. The British Army lost 12,000 in a single hour.

But memories blur – no First World War soldier is still alive – and attitudes change. Those whose ultimate sacrifice is remembered by their name being listed on a memorial now find those tablets a target for scrap metal thieves who place a different value on sacrifice.

The nation condemns, but headstones are smashed on war graves and slogans daubed in remembrance areas while claims are incredibly made that events such as the Holocaust never actually happened.

So what will you do on November 11th at the eleventh hour when the country traditionally falls silent as a mark of respect? Will you remember, will you be so involved with your modern life that you completely forget this time’s significance or, worse, will you deliberately flaunt your refusal to remember the ‘warmongers’?

If you are looking for an example to follow then I suggest the actions of a weary ploughman many years ago are the course of showing respect we should all follow.

It was an unusually hot November day and he could be seen behind his horses, shouting encouragement as they ploughed furrows up and down the field, but as 11 o’clock came close he paused in mid-furrow, removed his cap and bowed his head.

In the middle of nowhere he didn’t know anyone was watching. He did it because he wanted to, because it mattered to him and because it was the right thing to do.

Perhaps no-one will be watching you when 11 o’clock comes round in 2014. Perhaps you feel that showing respect is an outdated tradition.
It is up to you, but I will remember the fallen and millions more will too. Lest we forget.

Council acted in haste, now we pay for their repentance

WHAT goes around comes around and no-one knows that better than Weymouth council.

It is currently considering a scheme which could demolish its North Quay offices and build a series of town houses and apartments to extend the existing historic lower harbour look right up to Boot Hill.

What a good idea, people might say. I wonder why they didn’t do that before?

Well the simple answer is that it was done before, many centuries before, and the council knocked those buildings down to make way for the council offices it now wants to demolish!

There were Tudor houses on the current council offices site, perhaps not in the greatest shape but they were still Tudor and irreplaceable; so the council got rid of them anyway despite heroic efforts to stop them. Some of the rubble still lies reproachfully in the harbour.

Now history beckons again, but this time from the future not the past with an attempt to recreate the historic harbourside look which is such a striking feature of the area from Holy Trinity Church to the lifeboat station.

Certainly the project deserves to succeed because it is such an improvement over what is there at the moment, but it still goes to show the validity of that expression: ‘act in haste, repent at leisure’. 

Just think what an attraction those Tudor homes would be now if they’d been kept and restored.

What will school meals of the future be like?

SOME primary school children are sampling the delights of free school meals in Weymouth.
There is nothing quite like tucking into ‘frog’s spawn’ (tapioca) and ‘drainpipes’ (macaroni), or there wasn’t in my day, but modern school meals have taken a few culinary steps forward.

I was talking about this and recalling old school days with a few people over a coffee when they idly wondered what school meals would be like in 50 years time.

Well, for a start they will be much more efficient and there certainly won’t be any education time lost by children having to queue for lunch or even by having a lunch break which will probably have been scrapped.

A real possibility are giant tanks of protein culture which can be coloured, shaped and given whatever taste and look food producers want, something which will probably be vital by then given world population growth, pollution and agricultural land pressure.

Hopefully future meals will be a bit tastier than that, but half a century is a long time and for all we know cows and fruit trees may be endangered species by then.

So if you don’t like your school meal you should still be grateful. It is a lot better than it was and probably a lot better than it will become.

‘Power to the People’? 
It’s practicality, not politics

MY seafront walk now leaves the museum and theatre, lying a few paces apart with the town council between them. An inside-out sandwich! 

Their volunteers – being trusted and respected by those in charge – have such energy, commitment and quality. Will councillors sometime look out from the Guildhall’s echo chamber to notice how their exemplary neighbours work?

Ahead are Phase II of coastal protection scheme, the reinstated gardens, and restored shelters. Together enhancing our seafront, each owes much to vigorous, informed local contribution. They remind us how valuable is ‘people power’.

I’ve been reading press cuttings and leaflets, and listening to some people involved, when from 1989 to 1991 Lyme’s voluntary ‘Committee Opposing Beach Breakwaters’ (COBB) challenged the water company and district council. With untreated sewage in the sea, and the seawall deteriorating, the two authorities planned storm water holding tanks and a pumping station for a long untreated sewage sea-outfall – these and the frontage to the harbour to be protected by three enormous offshore rock breakwaters.

The possibility of building these breakwaters had been previously explored with town councillors, but when the plans were unveiled just two months before the intended July 1989 planning application, many townspeople suspected ‘railroading’. Perhaps water board privatisation and looming EU regulations prohibiting raw sewage discharge explained some of the hurry?

Appalled by the breakwaters’ disastrous visual, economic and safety aspects, their likely ineffectiveness, and continuing sewage-in-the-sea, Lyme wouldn’t be bounced. A large protest meeting quickly resulted in COBB being formed, led by Stuart Case. Battling to smoke detail out of the authorities, firing letters to ministers and officials, and calling for a public enquiry, COBB initiated a town referendum which voted 97 per cent against the idea.

This stopped the proposals in their tracks, buying time for all sides to listen to each other. COBB set up the ‘Voluntary Advisory Group’, a technical team of local wisdom such as the former Deputy Borough Surveyor, geologists, engineers and fishermen with long experience of Lyme’s waters. In November their ‘back to the future’ plan advised restoring the self-scouring nature of the harbour, with longshore drift replenishing the beach.
Breakwaters abandoned

In August, a shaken district council had established a widely-representative ‘Lyme Regis Voluntary Advisory Panel’ to find alternatives to the breakwaters. This group (later evolving into the still-extant Coastal Forum) was led by the open-minded WDDC engineer Keith Cole, who took collaboration seriously and appreciated the significance of ‘amenity value’. The engineers analysed COBB’s proposal, eventually judging it technically impractical. But by May 1991 the unacceptable breakwaters were officially abandoned, replaced by plans for a phased scheme meeting concern for the appearance and utility of the seafront.

The enforced breathing space had other benefits. In 1990 sewage discharge to sea was outlawed: so the Uplyme treatment plant created a modern system with extended outfall and pumping works at Gun Cliff, protected by new seawall and promenade, completed as Phase I in January 1995. 

By 2004 government had come to accept that coast protection involved not just building sea walls but also managed beach replenishment and landward slope stabilising. Thus a recharged beach, slope drainage and pinning, with geomorphological understanding behind it, became fundamental to Phase II (the all-embracing scheme that’s protected the main front since 2007, proving itself so dramatically last winter) and to Phase IV, now almost complete.

Phase II had reduced the gardens to a muddy wasteland with a few carefully-preserved trees. It took Merry Bolton’s keen horticultural eye, examining the reinstatement plans for this unrivalled setting, to see that ideas from townspeople could enhance them: thousands of laurels below the Woodland Walk, for example, and over-use of ‘municipal planting’, would be inappropriate and costly to maintain.

So the longstanding Lyme Regis Environmental Group, chaired by Ken Whetlor, approached the district council, which understood the argument that “these are community gardens – the people of Lyme own them,” as Merry puts it. Drawing in a world-expert botanist, several skilled horticulturalists and an experienced entomologist – all local – the group worked with the council’s landscape architects who incorporated their more shrub-based planting to suit the site, encourage “bugs, birds and bats”, and minimise upkeep. We can all admire the results. It’s no surprise that Tony Benger Landscaping won a national award for implementing the design, nor that the U3A gardens group was inspired to help with planting and minor maintenance.

With seafront and gardens now stable, regenerating the derelict shelters also involved local volunteers. Although town council property, the district council in 1997 and 2002 commissioned engineers’ reports on their condition. LRTC’s ‘Shelters Working Group’ chose the option to ‘demolish and rebuild’, seeming to believe that demolition costs could be absorbed into WDDC’s Phase II. Optimistic! But – despite the Conservation Officer in 2005 drawing up a ‘project brief’ for redevelopment – the ‘working’ group forgot that demolition in a Conservation Area needs prior planning approval for replacement, a process they’d not even begun.

Challenge time again – now in 2006 from the Lyme Regis Society to Mayor Barbara Austin, who set a volunteer ‘Shelters Regeneration Working Group’, including several councillors, to work. Chaired by Stephen Wilkins, work they did, liaising closely with the council, for five years. They arranged an updated engineering report, led a major initial consultation and 72 small meetings about design and use with over 55 town organisations, compiled specifications, mounted exhibitions, held public meetings, sought an architect, struggled through the toils of Planning, and raised over £215,000 in additional funding.

These three undertakings were different in many ways, not just in scale – certainly Barbara Austin’s positive attitude was light-years from the attempt to impose a solution that faced the town in 1989. But in each case a public authority came to value the time and effort of local volunteers and, equally important, the knowledge and experience they offered.

Such partnership between ‘authority’ and ‘the people’ isn’t easy. Only self-confident and capable councils can handle it. Perhaps the present town council, while learning from its nearest neighbours, might also reflect on these examples.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Does politics work for locals?

IN all the years I have been doing this job (too many according to my critics out there), I can’t remember a time when there was so much dissatisfaction with local government. Why is this?

You won’t be surprised, but I have a theory. 

When I first started covering rural and borough councils  in East Devon and occasionally Devon County Council, 50 years ago, politics had very little to do with it. We were all aware that East Devon was predominantly blue but the focus was very much on serving the electorate.

Councillors got little or no expenses and the officers were not paid such exorbitant salaries.  Debates were not dominated by groups of politically affiliated councillors, with members of other political shades marginalised, and there were no grand titles such as “portfolio holders”. Matters were dealt with by committees where all councillors had an influence.

With the exception of town councils, being an  elected representative today is as much a career as it is a service for many. I am not denying the amount of hours our councillors at district and county level put in, or questioning their commitment to their communities, but generally they are compensated for their efforts, especially the more capable and ambitious members who climb the political  ladder. Some of them receive far in excess of the average weekly wage in this area.

I’m not talking about every councillor.  I noticed when Googling councillors expenses, when I started thinking about a theme for this week’s column, that one long serving councillor claimed only £12.50 last year.

Times change and the reorganisation to create the current three-tier system (county, district and parish/town) back in 1974 was deemed necessary. Like it or not, local government is in the politics game and it will always be that way.

This became clear to me last week after I compared the different interpretation being put on the summoning of EDDC chief executive Mark Williams to a Commons Select Committee to answer question on electoral procedures. Having read the Hansard transcript of proceedings, it didn’t seem to me that it was a wholly enjoyable experience for Mr Williams.

One district councillor emailed me to say he was “mildly disappointed” with the view I had taken but then, incredulously, went on to criticise the “tame” spin put out by his own council’s communications team.  His words, not mine.

Talk to most people and they have no real interest in local government (it was ever thus) but those who have are pretty disillusioned. Controversy rages in most of the towns in Pulman’s Country at the moment but there is little faith in the ability of our elected representatives to find solutions. 

I think there is also a degree of frustration among a number of long serving councillors, with some of them having already decided not to seek re-election when we go to the polls next May. The big question is: will their replacements do any better?

Wednesday, 8 October 2014


LYME Regis resident David Sarson originally came from Reading in Berkshire and moved to the town nine years ago, having visited his father many times and fallen in love with the seaside town. David lives with his wife Erica. They have three children and three grandchildren. He is a member of the Rotary Club of Lyme Regis and the Royal Voluntary Service.

WHAT did you do before retirement?
Before I retired I spent most of my working career in sales and marketing, but the last 10 years I was self-employed as a franchisee in computer CD Roms and, ultimately, in book sales.  

HOW did you become involved with the Rotary Club?
I became involved in the Rotary Club of Lyme Regis only 18 months ago. I was introduced to the club by an existing member.

WHAT do you enjoy about being a member?
I enjoy the comradery, we are like an extended family or a good oiled working team. I am constantly meeting different people in all walks of life and, of course, it’s very self satisfying when you meet your challenge of raising money for the many charities, both home and overseas. I am forever taken back by people’s generosity.

DO you have any upcoming Rotary events?
We have three main events in our calendar for the next four months; Christmas collections in Lyme Regis and Charmouth, together with our annual Carols Around the Christmas Tree in Lyme Regis for Children's Hospice South West; The Formidable Lyme Lunge on January 1st for Help The Heroes and other Rotary charities; and a soup and ploughman's meal at the Alexandra Hotel on February 2nd for the charity Water Survival Box.

HOW did you become involved with the Royal Voluntary Service?
I became involved with the Royal Voluntary Service’s Befriending Scheme almost a year ago, initially through  Lyme Regis Development Trust.

WHAT is your role within the service?
I act as a volunteer co-ordinator for the charity, bringing volunteers and referrals together, covering Lyme Regis and Bridport areas. It is a very rewarding job, albeit challenging.

HOW would you encourage others to volunteer?
Our volunteers not only transform the lives of older people, it can change their own lives too. A couple of hours of volunteering makes you feel great, you meet some of the most interesting people in your own neighbourhood, building friendships and enjoying each others company.

ARE you a member of any other local organisations?
I am captain of Charmouth Bowls Club and also help out at the community Lyme lunches and am a member of the University of the Third Age. I also help Erica on our allotment.

WHAT do you like about Lyme Regis?
Lyme Regis is a beautiful town and we are also lucky enough to have in my view one of the best coastlines in the South West. The people of Lyme are very friendly and we have so much to offer with regards to choice and facilities in the town.

WHAT do you think it’s missing?
I do think perhaps that more people should be involved in their own community. Lyme Regis has so much to offer.   

WHAT would you do if you won the Lottery?
If I won the Lottery I would give a little monetary assistance to those Lyme groups who, at this present moment, are suffering through lack of funds, and then perhaps go on a short cruise if I get time!

Surely, it’s all a question of trust?

THE long love affair between Lyme Regis Development Trust and Lyme Regis Town Council seems to be over.

It was a long time coming.

The cracks in the relationship  which has delivered many benefits  to the town were more than evident at a recent meeting when trust representatives  David Gale and Peter Jeffs made a presentation to councillors.

The relationship has worn thin following two decisions made by the trust which have angered a number of councillors:  firstly, changes made to the community room in St Michael’s Business Centre, which is partly owned by the town council; secondly the decision to sell Monmouth House, a significant property in Monmouth Street providing affordable housing units which was given to the trust to manage. 

There was much talk in the town about an organisation which had worked hard at promoting affordable housing kicking tenants out onto the streets, but the trust argued that both Magna Housing and the Community Land Trust was not interested in taking on the building, the maintenance costs of which were now beyond the trust’s resources.

The bust-up over St Michael’s revolved around the trust converting the lobby area into separate interview rooms for their job club, which meant that people attending the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, had to wait for their appointment in the kitchen area.

Town councillors were miffed that, as a part owner of the building (they have an eight per cent share), they were not consulted on this matter.

And there were fears that the CAB, a much valued service in Lyme, were looking for alternative, less central accommodation, but I understand this is not the case and they are staying put.

There were some sharp exchanges between the trust representatives and councillors at a recent meeting in which Strategy and Policy chairman Mark Gage had to intervene.  Say what you like about Mark Gage - and I have - he’s always quick to ensure that his committee members are treated with respect.

The whole role of the development trust has come into question in recent weeks with my fellow columnist Chris Boothroyd  raising the relevance of its Lyme Forward arm at a recent meeting.

The relationship between the development trust and the town council has been the subject of confusion as far as the man in the street is concerned since its formation and has led to a number of “who’s running tnis town?” allegations over the years. But we should not forget what the trust has delivered, and particularly the role former chief executive Marcus Dixon played in setting up the Sure Start Centre, the organising of the Fossil Festival as a world renowned event and the establishment of The Hub youth club, to name just three.

In the final analysis, I think the development trust has been good for Lyme with a huge amount of voluntary effort going into the various projects. This newspaper has dedicated hundreds of column inches to their activities and ambitions over the years, some would say too many. 

Getting funding for such organisations has been difficult during the recession and this remains a great challenge for the developent trust, especially the funding of the community resource unit, LymeNet.

But it would seem that better communication between the town council and the trust is essential if the relationship is going to mature and continue to benefit the town.

NEWS that Lyme Regis could be losing another public house will be met with much sadness in the town - especially as it is a real locals’ boozer.

Plans are in the offing to turn the popular Nag’s Head in Silver Street into a bed and breakfast establishment with mine hosts Rob and Debbie Hamon taking much deserved retirement after many years dispensing hospitality and bonhomie across their bar.

If the planning application does go through and the property is sold, Lyme will be down to seven pubs. I think I’m right in saying that at one time the town had 13 hostelries and, in my lifetime, I have seen five  establishments close - the Dolphin in Mill Green, the London Inn in Church Street, the Victoria in Uplyme Road, the New Inn in Broad Street and the Angel in Mill Green.

With the Nag’s being slightly out of town, Rob and Debbie had to find a niche for their business - and that niche was establishing the Nag’s as the first port of call for locals, serving well-kept beers at reasonable prices, a home for the best darts players in town and regular music nights.

But they will be best remembered for the huge amount of money they have raised over the years for good causes. 

There can’t be many charities  in Lyme which have not benefited from their generous nature over the years and the total raised would run into tens of thousands of pounds.

They will be sadly missed.

PR guru and chief council critic Geoff Baker spends night with the Mayor. That’s the sort of sentence I never expected to write in this column. Fear not. It was all above board - to get a beach hut for Audrey Vivian.

Someone asked me if it was true that Geoff commandeered the duvet and Sal slept in the pillow case. Boom! Boom!

So, let’s hear what people have to say

PEOPLE are being encouraged to have their say about the Weymouth town centre Master Plan so the finished product can reflect residents’ views as much as possible.

Getting people’s opinions is clearly a good idea in view of the collapse of the £135 million Howard Holdings scheme for the Pavilion peninsula which the council liked but which more than 7,500 people signed a petition against.

The council scarcely batted an eyelid over people’s views then so, if it does now take on board public opinion for the Master Plan, people will be looking for a bit more authority attention to their views than they got with the abortive HH scheme.

Those of us with even longer memories can recall the delights – if that is the right word – of the ten-year bombsite which blighted the heart of Weymouth while the Debenhams-anchored new town centre was ground out.

The vandals playground of boarded up shops and businesses, including the hugely popular Golden Eagle pub, went on for nearly a decade and came close to destroying Weymouth as a shopping town so, whatever modern Master Plan schemes are chosen, we don’t want a repeat of that thank-you very much.

What residents will be keenly interested to know is, what’s to stop the council taking the temperature of public opinion and then just going ahead with its own template for the future?

Well the council has gone out of its way to stress the importance of people’s views so I’d suggest it has to reveal what those views are, saying which schemes, ideas, projects, plans and developments attracted the most public support.

There would then be a publicly available – and publicly accountable -- shortlist which should be debated to produce a guide for the Master Plan.

But at the end of the day the final word will still come from councillors because they will have to make the decision to approve or reject what is being suggested. That, after all, is what residents elected them for, isn’t it?

ENJOY the coastal path walk beyond Bowleaze while you can.

Winter is coming and everyone is hoping that the devastation caused by weeks of rain last year isn’t repeated.

That deluge caused numerous landslips with path sections sagging or being swept away altogether.

The result is that above Bowleaze the path still marches purposefully towards Osmington, but take a few strides off to one side on the down slops and there are giant cracks or earth slumps indicating that the next landslip might take a huge bite out of the route.

If that happens then the damage will be even worse because dangerous edges will have to be fenced off and that will force walkers even further away from the sea views they seek.

There is no suggestion yet from weathermen that we face a repeat of last winter’s storms and rain, but the alarming change in walking conditions is something to keep an eye on.

A new hazard

A DIFFERENT season and a different problem for drivers as they switch from keeping a wary eye out for wayward tourist pedestrians to keeping a wary eye out for mobility scooters.

It is the nature of Weymouth’s beast that its tourism goes in cycles and shoulder season has always seen coach loads of elderly people flock to the resort.

Sadly not all of them are as adept at getting about as they used to be so some bring a mobility scooter with them or hire one when they get to the resort.

This has seen a sharp increase in such machines around town and on the road with the inevitable increase in incidents.

Among those to surface so far was one user unable to make their mind up about when it was OK to cross a junction... so they just didn’t move at all, backing up traffic behind them.

Conversely, one user knew just when to cross a junction and crawled across it right in front of traffic accelerating towards him from a different junction.

On the pavements it is even worse. Some users just turn their mobility scooter without a thought as to what’s behind them, forcing pedestrians to leap smartly out of their way.

Everyone understands that mobility scooter users deserve every consideration. Perhaps they should help the situation by trying to show a little more awareness themselves.

IN all the years I have enjoyed the countryside I have never found myself really close to a weasel... and then one appears almost under my feet near my front gate in Weymouth!

It was quite simply astonishing because the little creature soon attracted an audience of other pedestrians as we watched it dart about along the pavement or under cars.

It seemed a bit disorientated, going first to one side of the road and then the other, and we slowly realised that it might be a baby.

It could still show an incredible turn of speed as it bustled about and, just as cars turned into the road and things could have got difficult, it chose a front garden dominated by a dense bush and slowly eased itself away out of sight.

To see such a creature in broad daylight in a residential area is a really good indication of just how much wildlife we have around us because our garden also regularly gets squirrels for visitors as well as the occasional fox, slow worms, smooth snakes, frogs and numerous birds.

I’ve never been able to afford to live in the country but I’ll take where I do live as a good second best.