Thursday, 8 November 2007

EXCLUSIVE: Council deputy chief executive quits just months into Independent control

THE officer who was second-in-command of West Somerset Council is quitting his post, just six months after political control of the authority was taken over by Independent councillors.
Deputy chief executive and director of finance Rod Latham has decided to take voluntary redundancy and early retirement to ‘pursue other areas of interest’.
The move comes just six weeks after council leader Councillor Keith Ross publicly admitted his administration was in such a state that the Government might have to step in and take over the running of the authority with its own team of auditors.
Mr Latham had faced increasing hostility from Independent candidates who were elected on the back of a campaign by Lib Dem-sponsored pressure group Direct to stop the sale of Minehead’s Vulcan Road car park for a supermarket development.
As the finance officer, it was Mr Latham who was considered the ‘brains’ behind such asset disposals and projects, including the sale of the Clanville Road car park in Minehead for housing and the council’s involvement in the £50 million New Horizons health, education, leisure, skills, and housing scheme.
As well as directing finance and assisting with the council’s corporate aims during the past eight years, Mr Latham was also a leading figure in the council’s Community Zone, formerly known as Unit 5, which was tasked with delivering many of the projects which Direct and many of the now-Independent councillors fought against.
Council media officer Stacey Beaumont told The Post: “The Community Zone is intrinsic to delivering community priorities in West Somerset, such as the district’s four Surestart Centres, affordable housing, and the ambitious New Horizons project which aims to bring health, learning and leisure benefits to local people.
“Mr Latham was also the main architect of the council’s assistance to the business community during the Foot and Mouth crisis.”
Chief executive Tim Howes, who was originally a target for the newly-elected Independent candidates but has so far survived, said: “Rod has helped shape innovative new ways of working at the council that will enable it to become a modern local authority.
“We will miss his knowledge and support, and wish him well in the future.”
Council leader, Councillor Keith Ross, said: “Rod has laid the foundations for a range of excellent community projects, such as the eco-friendly housing development at Carhampton, the development of workspace across the district, and New Horizons.
“We will continue to build on these foundations.”
Mr Latham leaves the council on Friday, November 9, and the authority has now had to hire a temporary ‘Section 151 officer’ - an officer responsible in law for its financial affairs - to fulfil its statutory responsibility until he is replaced.

Teenage woman in custody after dog walker held up at gunpoint

A TEENAGER has been arrested after what appeared to be an attempted armed robbery on a woman in Williton.
The 18-year-old woman in custody was being questioned on suspicion of attempted armed robbery.
Police also seized an imitation firearm.
Witnesses are being sought to the incident, which happened on Wednesday, November 7 at about 3.45 pm in the Catwell alleyway near the village’s recreation ground.
A 52-year-old woman was walking along the footpath when she was challenged by a white woman who demanded money.
The attacker held what appeared to be gun in her hand.
The victim ran off without handing over any money and she was not injured.
Immediately after the incident, she spoke to another woman nearby who was walking a black dog.
Police would like to speak to the second dog walker as they believe she could have useful information to help their investigation into the incident.
They have asked for the dog walker and anybody else who was in the area at the time and may have seen anything suspicious to contact Bridgwater CID on 0845 4567000.

MP claims £55,000 more expenses than Prime Minister

LIBERAL Democrat MP Jeremy Browne was the most expensive of the Parliamentarians representing the Greater Exmoor area in the past financial year - claiming a staggering £55,000 more in expenses than the Prime Minister.
Mr Browne (pictured) cost taxpayers more than £200,000 during the 2006-07 year after claiming more in expenses than Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, his own party leader Sir Menzies Campbell, and even then-Deputy Prime Minister John ‘Two Jags’ Prescott.
On top of his £60,000-plus annual salary, Mr Browne was paid £143,176 in expenses, which included more than £22,000 for staying in London, more than £20,000 to run his office, and £87,000 for his staff.
The Taunton Deane MP put in expenses claims which fell only a few pounds short of the maximum possible he could receive for ‘staying away from home’ and for running his office, and he was actually just over the top limit for his staffing costs.
His Lib Dem colleague for North Devon, Nick Harvey, claimed a similarly staggering amount of expenses, totalling slightly more than Mr Browne at £144,687.
Meanwhile, West Somerset and Bridgwater Conservative MP Ian Liddell-Grainger claimed £134,421 in expenses, while his Conservative colleague for Mid Devon, Angela Browning received £141,381.
By comparison, Mr Blair, who was then Prime Minister, received £87,342, Mr Prescott £115,013, Sir Menzies £123,617, Gordon Brown £134,586, and Tory party leader David Cameron £135,729.
The TaxPayers’ Alliance said MPs should be ‘ashamed of themselves’ for claiming so much in expenses.
Alliance chief executive Matthew Elliott said: “Families are struggling to pay higher tax bills while MPs are spending more and more of our money on themselves each year.”

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Record passenger year in sight for steam railway with winter gala still to come

THE West Somerset Railway is heading towards another record-breaking year as its main 2007 operating season ends and its volunteers and staff prepare for the annual programme of festive season trains in December.
It needs just 2,004 more passengers to break the all-time record of carrying 203,000 passengers in a year, which was set in 2005.
General manager Paul Conibeare said: “At the end of October we had carried 200,000 passengers in the year to date and had already welcomed more people to our trains than we did in the whole of 2006.
“We are also only 3,000 short of our all time record total set in 2005 with the December trains still to run, reflecting another terrific effort by everyone on the WSR in attracting business to the railway and the area and then offering a good day out that persuades passengers to come back again.
“The months ahead will be very busy for everybody on the line.
“We do not run any regular passenger train services for the rest of November but we are busy with bookings for our pre-Christmas Santa trains and work continues with the Minehead turntable preparation work, the construction of the Norton Fitzwarren turning triangle, locomotive and carriage maintenance, and much else besides.
“We always get a lot of quiet amusement when people ask us ‘what do you do all day when the trains are not running?’
“Our 2008 timetables are due from the printers in mid-November and once they are to hand, mailings to coach and holiday companies will begin as we continue to try to build our success story for the years to come.”
The Winter Steam Festival – the WSR’s final steam gala of the year - returns on Saturday, December 29.
Mr Conibeare said: “We are again keen to build-up on the success of previous events, which has seen it grow in stature and make a significant contribution to annual special events programme and a welcome boost to the railway at the end of the year.”
The gala will again be 100 per cent steam with at least five engines in action and working trains.
For the first time at the winter event, two ‘guest’ engines will be in use, nos 1450 and 662 ‘Martello’, with the remaining engines selected from the resident fleet.
It will be a final opportunity to see ‘Martello’ in service on the line before it returns to Bressingham.
As well as the ‘whole line’ trains between Minehead and Bishops Lydeard, the Great Western auto train - with no 1450 and trailer 178 - and the ‘branch line green train’ with the ‘Martello’ will also both be in use.
Mr Conibeare said: “Plans will again be put in place to ensure the sets of stock are steam-heated overnight to ensure passengers are welcomed by nice warm trains – a very important consideration at this time of year.
The museums in Bishops Lydeard and Washford will be open, as will the Diesel Heritage Centre, in Williton, and the Taunton Model Railway Group’s base at Bishops Lydeard.
A free bus service, operated by Cooks Coaches, will link Taunton railway station, the park and ride car park at Silk Mills, and Bishops Lydeard Station.
Rover tickets for the Winter Steam Festival, which can again be purchased in advance, will be available at the standard fare rather than at special event fares.
An adult day rover costs £13. Senior, child, and family rover tickets are also available.
Tickets can be purchased by telephone from Minehead Station on 01643 704996 and through using a credit/debit card.
The lastest date for advance booking is December 17, because of Christmas posting arrangements.

  • Our photographs show (top) locomotive 9351 on Santa special duty at Crowcombe Heathfield, and (below) locomotive 44422 at Bishops Lydeard with a train for Minehead. Photos by Alan Meade.

Man to appear in court on Minehead handgun charges

A MAN in his 40s has been charged in connection with a police hunt for a gunman in Minehead last month.
Forty-one-year-old Paul Bradley, of no fixed abode, is due to appear before West Somerset magistrates to face two charges.
Bradley was arrested when police were called to the Irnham Lodge Medical Centre, in Townsend Road, Minehead, after a two-and-a-half-hour search for a man reported to have been seen with a handgun in the Market House Cafe, in The Avenue.
He has now been charged with possessing an imitation firearm in a public place and also with failing to surrender to police or court bail.
Bradley is due to appear in the magistrates court in Minehead on Friday, November 16.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Archaeology forum to focus on historic buildings on Exmoor

THE seventh annual Exmoor Archaeology Forum is to be held on Saturday, December 1, in the Dunster Tithe Barn with this year’s focus on Exmoor’s Historic Buildings.
Organised by Exmoor National Park Authority, the day will comprise a series of brief illustrated talks looking at the kinds of historic buildings which make up Exmoor’s historic built environment, delivered by those working on aspects of historic buildings.
Ian Constantinides, an expert on the repair of historic buildings, will deliver a keynote speech ‘Why Does Conservation Matter?’.
Mr Constantinides is a director of St. Blaise Ltd, a company set up 25 years ago specialising in the repair of historic buildings and is well-known as a lively and colourful speaker.
Other presentations include ‘Restoration of the Dunster Tithe Barn’ by Graham Lamacraft, ‘The Conservation of Exmoor’s Historic Buildings’ by architect Jonathan Rhind, ‘National Trust Farm Buildings on Exmoor’ by Isabel Richardson, and ‘The Setting of Buildings: A Landscape Perspective’ by Caroline Garrett.
National park archaeologist Rob Wilson-North said: “I am really pleased that this year, for the first time, the Exmoor Archaeology Forum will be focusing on Exmoor’s historic buildings.
“They are such an important part of the landscape and tell us so much about the lives and economy of the local community - but a great deal of work is still needed to tease out the stories that they contain.
“Historic buildings can be fragile. They are vulnerable to change, neglect, and unsympathetic owners, but some are in good hands and will survive into the future.
“These are very uncertain times for many of Exmoor’s buildings and it is right to focus on why they matter and how they contribute to Exmoor’s distinctiveness.”
Tickets for the archaeology forum cost £15 per person, which includes tea and coffee, but those attending will need to make their own arrangements for lunch.
There is a choice of venues in Dunster or delegates can take a packed lunch if they prefer.
Places are limited and booking is essential by emailing or telephoning 01398 323665.

Rotary's Exmoor Moonraker teams raise £10,000 for children's hospice

NEARLY 350 walkers in 63 teams braved the elements in the annual Moonraker sponsored night walk on Exmoor to raise money for the Children’s Hospice South West and other Rotary charities.
The teams, which were drawn from across Taunton Vale, the Quantocks, West Somerset, and East Devon, walked one of three routes in poor conditions including continuous drizzle and thick fog in places, between Wimbleball Lake and Luxborough.
A team of more than 50 members of Taunton Vale Rotary Club, and the Inner Wheel, which organised the event, ensured the walkers were well-equipped, marshalled, checked on route, and fed in the middle of the night.
In addition, search and rescue facilities and four minibuses ensured all walkers were successfully returned to the base camp – with the last team finishing the course at 4.30 am.
The walkers again proved to be enthusiastic and up for the annual Moonraker Challenge, which it is anticipated will raise more than £10,000 for the Children’s Hospice South West.
The majority of the walkers were already looking forward to next year’s Moonraker event.
David Montgomery, president of Taunton Vale Rotary Club, which has members from Watchet and Wiveliscombe and several surrounding towns and villages such as Bampton and Wellington, praised the walkers for their efforts on the night and for the amount of sponsorship raised on behalf of the children’s hospice.
He also thanked all the marshals and support teams, as well as the local farmers and residents, for their help in making Moonraker a big success on the night.
This year’s winners were: The Challenge Walk (15 miles) – Crowcombe Stalkers; The Standard Walk (13 miles) – The Saints; The Short Walk (7.5 miles) – Rokin Robins.
  • Our photographs show (top) the Challenge Walk winning team the Crowcombe Stalkers, (middle) The Saints team who won the Standard Walk, and (bottom) members of the Rokin Robins team who won the Short Walk. Photos submitted.

Sports centre offers indoor activities to beat the winter blues

A WINTER sports activities package is being promoted by West Somerset Council to encourage people of all ages and abilities to keep fit and active.
Residents can swap the seasonal chill of outdoor exercising for indoor games sessions which are currently underway in the West Somerset Sports and Leisure Centre, in Minehead.
The wide range of warm-up activities to beat the winter blues includes table tennis, football, table cricket, basketball, table hockey, goalball, badminton, polybat, boccia - a sport for the disabled similar to bowls, petanque or even French boules - and many others.
Leisure, culture and recreation portfolio holder, Councillor Neil Parbrook, said: “This is a really good opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to take part in a great range of indoor activities that will help keep them fit and enjoying themselves throughout the long winter months.
“People can play sports that are old favourites as well as having the chance to try some new ones.
“It is friendly and everybody will find the support they need to join in all the activities and enjoy them to the maximum.”
The sessions are held every Saturday from 2 pm to 4 pm and cost £1.20 per person.
As well as catering for disabled people, the sessions are fully inclusive and everybody is welcome.
There is no need to book, people can just turn up, or for further information they can telephone Liz Stewart on 07921 231369.
  • Our photograph shows boccia being played. Photo submitted.

AWSOM website helps youngsters find adventure activities in Somerset

A NEW website is helping young people in West Somerset fill their spare time by trying their hand at sky diving, fly fishing, and mountain biking.
The AWSOM (Activities Within Somerset for Young People) website has been created by Somerset County Council and designed by young people to help 11 to 19-year-olds find and participate in all sorts of activities.
AWSOM searches more than 1,000 records to put young people in touch with activities including belly dancing in Taunton Deane, climbing and caving in Sedgemoor, scuba diving in South Somerset, and even submarine excursions in Mendip.
Visitors to the site at simply have to enter the activity they are interested in and their location.
They are then given details including dates, times, cost, and contact information.
There is also a link to Transport Direct to help them travel to and from the event.
The council’s project manager for participation, John Batt, said: “The AWSOM website has been designed with the help of a group of young people to be simple, user-friendly, and enable information to be found within three clicks of a mouse.
“We are keen to improve it even further and we are meeting with providers to put young people in touch with more great activities.”
Council portfolio holder for young people, Councillor Pauline Clarke, said: “This fantastically straightforward website is helping Somerset’s young people access all kinds of enjoyable things to do.
“I hope that by trying out these activities now, they will develop keen interests that keep them happy and healthy for many years to come.”
If an activity is not found on the AWSOM website, the team can be emailed via a link on the site for suggestions to be passed to potential providers.
At, there is a link to the Somerset Young People’s Film Council, where there is a short film about the AWSOM website and activities.
  • Our photograph shows three of the youngsters involved in helping to design the AWSOM website (left to right) Verity Colin-Smith, Maha Yuaseef, and Steph Walling, outside the Orchard FM radio station, in Taunton, where they helped to agree a script for an advertisement. Photo submitted.