Saturday, 12 January 2008

A39 crash traps woman in car

FIRE and rescue crews freed a woman trapped in the wreckage of a car on the A39 near Holford on Saturday, January 12.
Two vehicles were involved in the collision, which happened at about 5.30 pm.
A fire engine from Nether Stowey and a rescue tender from Taunton attended the scene.
The woman casualty was freed using hydraulic cutting equipment and then taken to hospital by an ambulance crew.

Thomas the Tank Engine cancelled after paedophile scare and rising costs

THOUSANDS of parents are set to be disappointed this year after a decision by the West Somerset Railway to axe the popular annual ‘Days out with Thomas’ weekend.
The weekend traditionally featured visits by the children’s favourite Thomas the Tank Engine and some of his ‘friends’.
Last year, advance tickets for the ‘Thomas’ weekend at Minehead Station sold out and around 3,000 people packed in to enjoy the event.
But now HiT Entertainment, the promotional company which owns the rights to Thomas the Tank Engine, has hiked its fees for granting the West Somerset line a licence in 2008.
In addition, the railway was faced with having to employ tougher and more expensive measures for Criminal Records Bureau checks on all its staff and volunteers.
The new CRB procedures were ordered after the cases last year of two steam railway volunteers, one in Hampshire and one in Gloucestershire, who took part in Thomas the Tank Engine festivals and were later found to be paedophiles.
One of them sexually assaulted a young ‘Thomas’ fan after being allowed to work on the trains without being properly screened first.
After that case, the Heritage Railway Association issued new guidelines to all its members, and at least one Devon railway will now not even allow staff or volunteers to help children on and off trains for fear of assault claims.
This year, the West Somerset Railway will instead organise a ‘family weekend’ to be held on July 5 and 6.
WSR general manager Paul Conibeare said the company had ‘looked long and hard at the implications’ before deciding to drop the ‘Thomas’ event.
Mr Conibeare said the ‘family weekend’ could potentially attract a wider age range to than just the ‘Thomas’ fans and could involve the whole of the 22-mile line rather than being ‘Minehead-centric’.
However, he said the railway was looking for ‘good ideas’ and suggestions as to what could be achieved at each station along the line in order for the weekend to be successful.
Ideas were needed before the end of January in order to allow sufficient time for the initiatives to be properly marketed.
Mr Conibeare said any ideas should be ‘achievable within the existing restrictions on budgets and staff availability’.
  • Another regular feature on the West Somerset line which will not go ahead in 2008 is the Sunset Specials which for many years have run on Wednesday evenings between Minehead and Blue Anchor during the high summer.
    Although passenger numbers on the railway reached a new record in 2007, the Sunset Specials failed to carry sufficient passengers to make them commercially viable.
    Commercial manager Martyn Snell said: “It is a great pity that numbers on this particular service have dropped as they have.
    “We have to be realistic, particularly bearing in mind how much time we ask our staff to give to all our train services.
    “We have identified one that is not working well and have decided to stop it. Who knows, it may return in a slightly different guise, but certainly not during 2008.”

It has to be Tesco - Vulcan Road and Aquasplash set to be sold

THE fate of the Vulcan Road car park site in Minehead looks set to be decided by West Somerset Council’s urgent need to resolve its dire financial crisis.
And The Post can reveal that the council appears ready to sell not just its Vulcan Road land but also its adjoining Aquasplash site, in a single giant deal worth up to £11 million.
The buyer is said to be Britain’s largest supermarket firm, Tesco.
Despite a supposedly ongoing public consultation by the council on the future of the land, the Independent-led council looks to have reached a deal behind closed doors.
The move would be a massive slap in the face to the public who voted out the last Conservative administration after a prolonged campaign by pressure group Direct against the council doing such a deal with Tesco’s main rival ASDA.
The ruling Independent group of councillors finally abandoned the previous scheme last November and ordered a new round of consultation with the public before making up their minds on what to do.
But five weeks after the consultation was carried out, councillors have not been given any results.
Council Media and PR officer Stacey Beaumont could not give any timescale for producing a report on the consultation findings.
She said it would happen ‘in due course’.
However, she denied that any decision ‘has been taken or will be taken’ before councillors considered the report.
The move would help to explain why the council’s cabinet has been so reluctant to try to repair and re-open the Aquasplash leisure pool, and why staff in Tesco’s Minehead store have been told the firm is buying it.
While councillors are thought to have started the recent consultation from a position of genuinely wanting to find out what the public had to say, their wishes look to have been overtaken by events.
The Post understands that council leader Councillor Keith Ross is under increasing pressure to bridge a £1 million funding gap after budget overspending by his administration in the past nine months.
In a bid to keep a lid on the escalating crisis, some councillors are even said to have been barred from receiving financial figures.
Nobody was available from Tesco’s press office to comment as The Post went to press.

Cloud of gas escapes from housing site

A LARGE cloud of gas drifted over homes and businesses on Saturday afternoon, January 12, after escaping from pipes on the former Taunton Cider factory site, in Norton Fitzwarren.
However, there was not said to be any danger to the public.
More than 300 homes are currently being built on the nine-and-a-half-acre site.
The leak was dealt with by engineers from Transco, which maintains the country’s gas distribution network and which is now owned by National Grid.
Somerset Fire and Rescue Service said it had received numerous reports of ‘a strong smell of gas in the Taunton area’ but it reassured residents there was ‘no immediate danger’ to them.
Anybody who smells gas or who is worried about gas safety can call the free helpline 0800 111 999 at any time of the day or night.

Friday, 11 January 2008

TWO new nuclear stations for Hinkley Point

NOT one, but two, new nuclear power stations are likely to be built in West Somerset following the Government’s decision this week to give the go-ahead for a new generation of power plants.
Hinkley Points C and D could be constructed and generating electricity in just 10 years’ time.
Meanwhile, the existing Hinkley B station could see its operating lifespan extended by a further two years to 2018, which would bridge the gap to the opening of the new stations.
Hinkley B owner British Energy still also owns sufficient land next to the now-closed Hinkley A station for the new power plants to be built.
Nearly two years ago, a Government-commissioned report made the Hinkley site a favourite for any new build.
Since then, British Energy has been undertaking detailed assessments of the location, including environmental, geological, and marine studies, and it now knows what work is needed to ensure the site is completely suitable.
In addition, the company has recently brokered a deal with the National Grid for new power plants to be connected from 2016 onwards.
It all adds up to the West Somerset site being progressed at ‘full speed ahead’ as the Government seeks to equip Britain with secure and cheap energy supplies.
Hinkley B station director Nigel Cann (pictured) told The Post: “We have done what we can to prepare ourselves for a positive outcome from the Government consultation process.”
Mr Cann said there was potential for a double unit to be built at Hinkley and it would make sense economically for any such decision to be taken from the outset of planning the new build.
Such a design would virtually double the amount of electricity generated at the site, which was important for the Westcountry as a whole because the region was one of the most vulnerable grid areas in the country.
Mr Cann said: “The Westcountry is very fragile from a grid point of view as regards supply of electricity.
“We are in a position where our (Hinkley B’s) connection to the grid is very valuable because if we were to close, then there is a risk of people losing their supplies in a cold winter.”
Hinkley B currently has capacity to produce enough electricity to power one million homes - just about every domestic property in the Westcountry - but has been running at only 70 per cent following two shutdowns for repairs last year.
Mr Cann said Hinkley B was also important to the local economy of West Somerset and the wider area because of the 700 skilled jobs available on the site and £30-£40 million of revenue which went into local communities.
The new station would create a similar number of jobs and provide the same kind of economic boost.
It is not yet known which companies would be commissioned to build the new nuclear stations, but French firm EDF Energy, which now owns the former South Western Electricity Board, has the experience and expertise and has already said it plans to build four in Britain.
British Energy said it was currently consulting on possible partnerships it might want to set up for new build schemes.
A small group of about 16 anti-nuclear protesters staged a peaceful roadside demonstration outside the Hinkley site on Thursday after the Government announcement and pledged to oppose any new build there.
Mr Cann said: “We have said nuclear is only part of the equation and we should still pursue energy efficiency and other solutions to close the energy gap.”
The largest union in the nuclear industry, Prospect, welcomed the Government’s decision to allow the construction of a new generation of nuclear power stations.
Assistant general secretary Mike Clancy said: “Nuclear energy is green energy, essential in the race to tackle climate change.
“New nuclear build is an essential part of a balanced energy policy that must embrace a wide range of low carbon options.
“It is crucial for the UK to meet the urgent priorities of climate change and security of energy supply.
“New build will yield major economic benefits by creating many thousands of new jobs - not only for those involved in operation, but also within the manufacturing and construction supply chain.”

Thursday, 10 January 2008

Crisis council brings in management troubleshooter

A TEMPORARY chief executive costing nearly £3,500 a week has been appointed by West Somerset Council to steer it through a financial crisis.
Management consultant Dr Jack Neal, aged 60, has been brought in to run the council for the next few months while it grapples with staffing and funding shortages.
His £30,000 fee, however, is likely to be fully met by Lift South West, an agency set up to support councils and promote excellence in local government.
Dr Neal, who lives near Honiton, Devon, was chief executive of Caradon District Council, in Cornwall, for 10 years until 2002, where he experienced many of the issues now facing West Somerset.
Since then, he has worked all over the country as a troubleshooter taking temporary charge of councils in crises and guiding them through their problems.
He has had short spells running Erewash Borough Council, Lincolnshire County Council, and Richmondshire District Council, and provided training and consultancy to Plymouth City Council, Castle Morpeth Borough Council, Gloucestershire County Council, and Dorset Fire and Rescue Service.
Dr Neal said: “I am looking forward to working with the staff and councillors at West Somerset Council.
“We have a joint aim, which is to stabilise the council and to establish the best way forward to ensure more effective service delivery.
“I believe passionately in teamwork and think that by working together, staff and councillors can meet the challenges ahead positively and secure a better future for services and people in West Somerset.”
The council’s acting chief executive, Adrian Dyer, said: “We are delighted to have Jack’s skills and experience on board.
“His strong focus on team work will help us stabilise the council and drive forward improvements to meet the district’s longer term needs.
“Essentially, the majority of the council’s services are good which is down to our hard-working and loyal staff.
“However, we accept that we need to change in order to bring effective improvements across all services.
“We are enthusiastic about working with Jack, councillors, and partners to find a positive way forward for the authority for the benefit of the whole district.”
Beleagured council leader Councillor Keith Ross, who is facing a rebellion within the ranks of the controlling Independent group, is hoping Dr Neal will embed a new way of working ‘with an emphasis on leadership, teamwork, trust, and respect’.
It will include facilitating a review of how the council is organised internally with a view to ensuring that capacity and accountability are aligned to deliver on the council's corporate priorities.
Work will be undertaken to refine and focus the council’s short-term improvement programme, with particular emphasis on financial standing and performance management.
Consideration will also be given to finding the most suitable longer-term plan for a more integrated service delivery model across Somerset, which could include letting Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset County Council take on some services.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

CLOWNS gets Lottery grant for play scheme, but Playbus still under threat

NEWS of a £164,295 National Lottery award to West Somerset children’s charity CLOWNS has been tempered by continuing worries over the viability of some of its other services.
CLOWNS has achieved a track record over many years of delivering quality, affordable and fun outreach provision and support to families across West Somerset and Exmoor.
It now provides more than 1,500 different sessions every year, with a total of more than 9,000 attendances, visiting 24 different village and town locations.
The windfall from the Big Lottery Fund will allow it to expand its former Tumbling Toddlers scheme which was primarily aimed at young children, to engage with the whole family in fun activities.
Entire families will be encouraged to be more active and learn about healthy eating.
An outreach support van will travel to villages to offer isolated families an opportunity to join in weekly physical activity sessions in their local village halls, schools, or children’s centres.
Parents, grandparents, carers, and children aged up to four years will share the themed sessions, which aim to educate in areas of healthy living and eating as well as early literacy and numeracy.
CLOWNS co-ordinator Kathy Morton said: “We are so pleased that we have the funding for this important part of our work.
“It will make a huge difference to the lives of some of our most isolated families across the area, and we are now busy preparing for this new work.”
However, Mrs Morton warned the charity was still worried about all the other funding it needed to be able to carry on with all the other parts of its work.
She said the Lottery good news had been followed by some bad news when another funding application was turned down.
Mrs Morton said: “We still need to get funding for the costs of running the Playbus.
“We should be taking delivery of our new double decker bus very shortly, but we are still short of at least £35,000 of the total running cost for the whole year’s budget.
“We will now try other avenues of support, but it all takes a lot of time and effort. We would all prefer to be out delivering all our sessions.”
CLOWNS chairman Jan Ross, told The Post: “We have several strands of provision, including our well-known double decker Playbus, outreach support van, toy library, scrap store, and holiday play schemes.”
Mrs Ross said recent consultations carried out by West Somerset Council showed people were concerned about the lack of facilities and activities for children and families at ‘reasonable’ prices.
A local area agreement had set a target under to increase the proportion of adults who did at least three 30-minute sessions of moderate or strenuous physical activity a week.
Mrs Ross said CLOWNS would work with health and physical activity manager Tracey Milton and her team from Somerset Primary Care Trust to carry out appropriate fun diagnostic tests at the beginning of the programmes, with regular monitoring of progress of individuals during the project.
Somerset Activity and Sports Partnership would also work in partnership with the new project.
Big Lottery Fund regional head Mark Cotton said: “This award will help families interact and enjoy learning in fun and stimulating surroundings.
“Some areas of the county are very isolated, making some facilities much less accessible so I am certain these projects will bring a great deal to families and communities as a whole.”
CLOWNS welcomes visitors, and would be pleased to meet anybody interested in its work. More information can be obtained or appointments made by telephoning 01643 707190.

Appeal by police after town suffers spate of car crime

POLICE in Watchet are appealing for information after a series of cars were damaged and one stolen.
At least four cars were broken into and damaged in the Quantock Road and Wyndham Road area of the town between Friday, December 28, and Sunday, December 30.
During one of the incidents, overnight from Saturday, December 29, into the following morning, a Ford Fiesta car was stolen from Quantock Road and recovered a short time later by police officers.
Police would like to speak to anybody who may have witnessed any of the above incidents or may have any information to help police inquiries.
Anybody who can help is asked to contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or through the secure Crimestoppers contact form at
People do not have to give their name, but they could receive a reward.

Monday, 7 January 2008

Air ambulance flies A39 victim to hospital

THE A39 outside Minehead was closed for nearly an hour during the afternoon of Monday, January 7, following a serious car crash.
Three cars were involved in the accident, which happened shortly after 3 pm and left an elderly woman trapped inside one of the vehicles.
It happened on the Dunster Straight, outside the Old Dairy, Castle Home Farm, and involved a Suzuki car, a Ford Focus, and a Nissan Micra.
The woman driver of the Nissan was trapped in the wreckage and had to be freed by a fire and rescue crew using specialist cutting equipment to remove the roof of the vehicle.
The woman, who is thought to have suffered a broken hip, was then flown by Devon Air Ambulance to hospital.
One fire and rescue crew was called from Minehead and a rescue tender from Taunton also attended.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

Exmoor chimney blaze poses problems for firefighters

A CHIMNEY in a house in Pixton, near Dulverton, caught fire twice in one day.
Dulverton firefighters thought they had put out the fire on Sunday, January 6, but they were later called back to it when it reignited.
It was a difficult operation for the fire and rescue crew and took them several hours to complete.
The fire had spread to the insulation within the chimney structure and to tackle it the firefighters had to remove the chimney pot, the capping, and a wood burning stove to gain access to the seat of the flames.
They eventually successfully put it out using chimney gear.
Damage was confined mainly to the insulation within the chimney, and there was also about 10 per cent smoke damage to the living room of the house.
A fire and rescue spokesman said smoke alarms were fitted in the property and were in good working order.
Photo for illustration only.

Bomb disposal squad examine device attached to Minehead car

A 32-year-old Minehead man has been arrested by police following a full-scale bomb scare in the town.
The arrest on the evening of Saturday, January 5, came after the discovery of a 'suspicious device' attached to a car belonging to another man.
Although the device was not thought to pose a danger to the public, police cordoned off an area of Seaward Way as a precaution until an Army bomb disposal squad was able to properly examine it.
The device was found to be harmless, and Seaward Way was reopened at about 10.30 pm on Saturday night.
The suspected 'bomb' was found at about 4 pm after the arrested man's ex-girlfriend, who also lives in Minehead, complained to the police about being harrassed.
Police investigations then led them to examine a car belonging to a second Minehead man.
The 32-year-old was arrested on suspicion of harassment but he was later released on police bail pending further inquiries.