Agenda and minutes
Venue: West Somerset House, Council Chamber
Apologies for Absence
To receive any apologies for absence.
Somerset Cllrs Mandy Chilcott, Christine Lawrence, Marcus Kravis and Mike Rigby. Rev. Andrew Tatham (Quantock Deanery).
Declarations of Interest
To receive and note any declarations of interests in respect of any matters included on the agenda for consideration at this meeting.
(The other registrable interests of Councillors of Somerset Council, arising from membership of City, Town or Parish Councils and other Local Authorities will automatically be recorded in the minutes: City, Town & Parish Twin Hatters - Somerset Councillors 2023 )
None were declared.
To approve the notes from the previous meeting.
The minutes from the previous meeting were agreed as a true record by those in attendance.
An update on Somerset Council's Financial Position
An urgent item that has been brought forward due to the parishes currently setting their precepts for the forthcoming financial year.
Cllr Theo Butt Philip, the Lead Member for Transformation and Resources took questions about the Council’s current financial position. This followed a letter being sent to the parishes from the Leader Cllr Bill Revans, addressing the subject of asset and service devolution. (A copy of the letter can be viewed here).
A slide pack explaining the Council’s financial position and where the budgetary pressures lie can be viewed here.
Questions from the floor were raised as follows:-
Crowcombe PC – The parishes were very small, with limited funds and small precepts. Even with an increase on the precept, how could some of these assets and services be financed? And what would happen to them if the parishes didn’t have the capacity or capability to take them on?
A: It will depend on demand for the asset and or service and will be tailored to suit the work and parish needs. Services are provided in different ways across the county, so this will need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. In some instances, if the parish does not take on the work required, then this service is likely to be cut.
West Quantoxhead PC – The smaller parishes don’t employ full time staff, and some clerks only work a few hours a week. All of the parish councillors are volunteers, and don’t want the responsibility of managing staff. How will this be managed if assets/services are devolved and staff are TUPEd across?
A: Parish Councils are different sizes and already have varying responsibilities. Somerset Council will offer advice and assistance to those parishes who wish to take on additional assets and services.
Old Cleeve PC – Cllr Ian Duncan:Why did it take so long for the Council’s financial position to come to light, and then why such a rush to get out the letter about devolution? It has landed very badly!?
A: The new Council has been winding up the financial affairs of the 5 legacy councils and has been working with a new finance system. Somerset Council was aware there was an issue but not the scale of the problem until it started actively looking at the budget setting process for the next financial year. It also had to consider what grant would come in from central government and any reserves that it held. Once the problem was identified it was important to let the parishes know as soon as possible, especially in light of their precepting process. It was recognised that it might not have been great timing, but if it had waited, then most parishes would have already submitted their precept application for the 2024/25 Financial year. The letter was sent out to give the parishes an awareness of the current challenges.
Watchet TC – Cllr John Irven - The timing of the letter landed badly. Watchet TC already ran a youth club (following SCC withdrawing the youth service in 2012), a community library, the Esplanade and the former WSDC public toilets in the town. ... view the full minutes text for item 21.
Public Question Time
The Chair to advise of any questions, statements or petitions received that are not covered by items on the agenda for the meeting on which members of the public have requested to speak.
Katherine Attwater and
Alan Jefferies, members of the public who attend the Hinkley Point C Community Forum asked the following question:-
“I would like to ask if the LCN members are aware of a Consultation being run, starting on the 9th January 2024, by EDF on their desired Variations to the DCO for Hinkley C which include; the methods of storage of Radioactive Nuclear Waste and Removal of the Acoustic Fish Deterrents from the cooling water intake heads.”
Katherine was concerned that since the demise of Somerset West and Taunton Council, there was no statutory consultee Council to follow up residents’ concerns at a local level.
The Chair responded:-
I can confirm that the Parish Councils that are adjacent to the Hinkley Point C site are listed as Non-Statutory Consultees.
However if there are any Clerks who wish to contact you on behalf of other parishes, please let me know a contact email address and we will forward this on.
Katherine agreed to follow this up after the meeting.
Cllr Sue Sherry from West Quantoxhead PC asked for more information, as they were a neighbouring parish and would like to participate in the consultation.
Maureen Smith – West Somerset Community Landtrust (WSCL)
Asked that attendees consider the lack of affordable housing in West Somerset for local people and was concerned to see that Housing had not been considered a priority by the Minehead and Watchet LCN. She represented the West Somerset Community Landtrust who hoped to work with landowners in identifying prospective development sites. Cllr Sully suggested that she provided a resume of the work and report to the next LCN meeting in February.
Feedback from Flooding Recovery Drop In Events
Two flooding drop-in events were held in Carhampton and Minehead to gather data on the recent flooding which occurred on Sunday 17 September.
A variety of agencies and councillors were in attendance.
Paul Elliston, Somerset Rivers Authority Community Engagement Officer presented some slides which outlined the events of Sunday 17 September. Two drop in events had subsequently taken place to gather information on how local communities had been impacted. These had taken place in Carhampton and Minehead.
The presentation slides can be viewed here.
Williton PC – Cllr Ian Aldridge asked what could be done when housing was being developed over a flood plain, and there appeared to be no constraints placed on the developers. Could Somerset Council please put pressure on the landowner to relieve the channel of the Flood Relief Scheme. If this was covered over it could potentially have a catastrophic effect on the rest of West Somerset, as it would cut off access for all vehicles and traffic including the emergency services.
A: Paul Elliston asked that his concerns were emailed to email@example.com so that they could be followed up.
Cllr Brenda Maitland Walker agreed to follow up some of the issues raised in the drop-in events directly with the Area Highways office.
Result of the prioritisation exercise from the previous meeting
At the previous LCN meeting, each of the groups had discussed local priorities and themes. The results of the exercise had been scored and evaluated, in order to determine where the Minehead and Watchet wanted to focus attention. The data table can be viewed here.
Public Transport – in particular the loss of the No28 Bus Service had been identified as the main area of concern. Although the Exmoor LCN had little influence on commercial transport operators it was recognised that it could support the work of the Somerset Transport Group. A slide pack that had been presented at a meeting of the Somerset Bus Partnership in October 23 is available to view here. Cllr Sully also advised that there were plans to turn the former Taunton bus station, into a mobility hub once the NHS had vacated it.
Sam Murrell provided some additional insight and explained that some of the themes were considered interlinked or of equal importance. The table had been colour coded where this had been stated.
As such “Climate Change” had not been prioritised but three of the groups highlighted that Flooding was a concern to them. It was also stated that this was specific to the Highway especially around the main arterial routes along the A39.
Health and Wellbeing was impacted by lack of basic needs such as Housing being fulfilled. The groups had interlinked these themes.
Education and Young People were considered interlinked. It was important that young people had access to more opportunities.
The themes of Business, Employment and Communication were considered interlinked.
Interestingly none of the groups had identified Crime and Disorder and anti social behaviour concerning young people as an area of concern.
Although some tables had listed Planning Enforcement, none of them had made this a priority.
In light of the findings some events had already taken place.
On Tuesday 14 November a presentation was held on Microsoft Teams to showcase the Somerset Council Rainbow Way Housing development.
There was also a presentation from Homefinder Somerset, to provide an overview of the process and how it works.
On Tuesday 14 November, the Somerset Council Housing development team carried out a presentation on the Rainbow Way Scheme, via Microsoft Teams.
On the same day, Homefinder Somerset presented slides on their choice based letting scheme, explaining how it works and how properties are allocated.
It was agreed to circulate the slide pack with the minutes, but with the agreement of the Chair, this item was removed from the agenda.
Action and next steps?
Kate Hellard said the cost of the Highway Steward Scheme would be £50k which would be shared across 2 LCN areas. (Sam Murrell provided an overview on how the pilot scheme had worked on Exmoor and signposted to information available online). This can be viewed here.
· Support the Somerset Transport Group and obtain an update on the No28 service.
Dates of Future Meetings
Wednesday 7 February 2024 commencing at 6.30pm
Date in April 2024 to be confirmed.
These will take place at West Somerset House.