Saturday, 7 February 2009

Snow leaves hundreds without electricity for up to 24 hours

UP to 1,000 homes and businesses in the Wiveliscombe area were without electricity today because power cables had been brought down by the snow.
Western Power Distribution warned the difficult weather conditions could mean it would take all day before all repairs were fully carried out.
A spokesman said engineers were working flat out to reach the trouble spots and restore power as quickly as possible, and the company had even drafted in staff from other areas to help.
The power cuts followed on from the loss of electricity yesterday to hundreds of properties in Bishops Lydeard and the Roadwater area.
Across Somerset, the power company dealt with 500 incidents affecting 15,000 people yesterday, while today it was aware of about 100 incidents.
Elsewhere in West Somerset, the big freeze which followed yesterday’s heavy snowfalls turned many road into icerinks.
Near Williton, even a 4x4 vehicle found the conditions too treacherous and overturned on the A358 between Crowcombe and Bicknoller.
Earlier in the day, the road had been blocked by the snow at Flaxpool Hill.
Exford resident Jacquie Stares, aged 58, told the BBC she had two feet of snow in her front garden, although it was ‘thawing fas’.
She said: “It is so deep that it is going to take some time to thaw, but it is on its way.
“The village shop has been rationing supplies but everybody around here has been sensible and has stocked up on items like bread and Calor gas, just in case.”

Friday, 6 February 2009

Income cut for pensioners is price worth paying to save economy says Lib Dem candidate

PENSIONERS and others in West Somerset who had managed to put away money in savings would have to suffer a loss of income for the greater good of the country, the district’s Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate said today.
Theo Butt Philip (pictured) was speaking after yesterday’s Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee’s decision to cut interest rates to a record low of one per cent.
Mr Butt Philip, who lives in Wells, said: “The bank was right to cut interest rates.
“It is a desperate, but necessary, measure.
“The current economic situation is a very difficult one, and this cut will not help savers.
“However, for the sake of the economy as a whole, it is imperative that we get people spending again.
“The interest rate cut alone will not be enough to see us through these difficult times.
“The Government must do everything it can to increase the flow of credit.
“That means temporarily nationalising those banks which are already majority owned by the taxpayer and directing them to increase lending.
“Furthermore, the Government should bring forward investment in capital programmes and in projects to protect the environment.
“By building more social housing, insulating our current housing stock, and investing in railways, the Government could create jobs, stimulate the economy, and create assets which will be of real long-term value to the country.”

Chaos in the snow: Schools and roads close, electricity cut off, house catches fire ...

HEAVY overnight snowfalls brought more chaos to West Somerset today as schools closed, people were unable to travel to work, and many homes lost their electricity.
Up to five inches of snow fell across a wide area in just a few hours, with as much as 20 inches reported in the highest areas, while the windy conditions led to deep drifts.
Buses were cancelled and some roads became impassable while others remained extremely difficult to negotiate.
Electricity supplies were cut off for several hours in the Roadwater area and also in Bishops Lydeard after a series of power outages across Somerset and Devon left Western Power Distribution engineers struggling to keep on top of the situation.
The A396 Dunster to Dulverton road was closed because trees and power lines had been brought down by the weight of snow.
The A358 was impassable at Crowcombe, and the B3190 was closed between Sticklepath and Ralegh’s Cross.
Bus and coach services operated by First, Webberbus, Cooks Coaches, Quantock Motors, Berry’s, South West Coaches, and Stagecoach were all cancelled.
Somerset County Council said staff were working hard to maintain essential services, although many services had been disrupted.
Snow ploughs were on the roads working continuously, with 23 gritters with snow ploughs attached and six additional highway vehicles operating round-the-clock.
Farmers and contractors were also helping clear the roads - helping to shift a total of 1.4 million cubic metres of snow across the county since last night.
In areas of West Somerset where the road conditions were particularly bad, county council staff were using Somerset 4x4 Response - a group of volunteers who assist in emergencies - to visit people needing support.
The county council warned yesterday it had only a week’s supply of salt left, but it was expecting a delivery of 1,500 tonnes today to replenish stocks.
Libraries were closed in Dulverton, Minehead, Williton, Porlock, Wiveliscombe, and Bishops Lydeard, and all mobile libraries and vans were off the road today.
Waste collection crews were unable to reach their depots, meaning all household waste recycling centres were shut and waste or recycling collections were not taking place.
People expecting their collection today were requested to take their waste off the highway and to put it out again for collection on Monday instead.
A total of 184 out of Somerset’s 284 schools were closed today, including the following primary and first schools: Bishops Lydeard, Cannington, Crowcombe, Cutcombe, Cutcombe, Dunster, Exford, Knights Templar, in Watchet, Lydeard St Lawrence, Minehead, Spaxton, St Dubricius, in Porlock, Stogumber, Stogursey, Timberscombe, Wiveliscombe, and also Kingsmead School, in Wiveliscombe.
Minehead and Dulverton were two of only four middle schools in Somerset to stay open, while the West Somerset Community College, in Minehead, was one of just 10 secondary schools in the county to remain open.
The county council said essential services to vulnerable people were being maintained despite the weather conditions and staff were linking with home care agencies to ensure people could be contacted and provided with the necessary support.
Almost all adult social care and learning disability day centres were expected to be closed for the day, although the West Somerset Leisure Centre, in Minehead, was open.
County council staff who were unable to reach their normal place of work were advised to go to their nearest county council facility, where they could be deployed to help maintain essential services.
Both the Crown Court and Magistrates Court in Taunton were closed today because of the weather.
Police urged motorists not to make any non-essential trips anywhere in Somerset or Devon today as the weather had made driving conditions on many roads extremely dangerous.
Those drivers whose journeys were essential were advised to take ‘tremendous care’ and to allow plenty of time for the journey, as well as plenty of space between themselves and the vehicle in front because stopping distances would be greater.
Police said windscreens should be cleared of snow and ice, and the roof should also be cleared because snow could easily slip and obscure the windows.
Motorists were advised to stay on main roads, as they were likely to be easier to navigate, and to routinely test their brakes.
Essential items to carry on any journey included de-icer, food, a hot flask, a blanket, and appropriate footwear and clothing.
Anybody heading for the M5 was advised that a 30 mph speed limit had been imposed at 7.35 am today throughout Somerset.
As if the weather was not bad enough, one family in Rodhuish, near Withycombe, also suffered a fire in their home in the early hours of today which resulted in one person being taken to hospital
The blaze happened just before 6.30 am and when firemen arrived they found the ground floor was filled with smoke.
They used breathing apparatus to rescue one occupant of the property who was suffering from smoke inhalation and required oxygen before being taken by ambulance to Musgrove Park Hospital, Taunton.
The fire was put out with one hose reel jet, and its cause was not yet known.
Forecasts suggested that temperatures would fall this evening, which could result in the snow and slush currently on the roads turning into ice and making them even more hazardous.
Avon and Somerset Police Deputy Chief Constable Rob Beckley said: “All the relevant agencies are working very closely together, supporting each other and putting into place plans to deal with the challenges posed by the wintry weather.
“Public safety is the paramount concern of all the agencies involved and we are doing everything we can to make local residents safe.
“But it is extremely important that local people play their part, too, and only take to the road over the next 24 hours at least, if it is absolutely necessary.
“If the temperatures drop as predicted, and the snow turns to ice, then even those roads which have been treated with salt and grit could become increasingly dangerous.
“Efforts are being made to treat as many roads as possible but clearly the priority must be main arterial routes, and there will undoubtedly be many routes which will not be treated.
“All the agencies within the ‘local resilience forum’ are in regular discussion, sharing resources and ensuring that all critical services are maintained.
“I am very grateful to the staff of all the relevant agencies for all their dedication and professionalism in working so hard to help protect the safety of local residents.
“I would advise people to keep monitoring weather forecasts during the course of the weekend for updates and developments.
“If, and only if, your journey is absolutely necessary, you should take every possible precaution to make it as safe as possible.
“The best possible advice we can give is quite simply do not travel at all during the next 24 hours.”
More sleet and snow was forecast to fall across Exmoor tomorrow as another weather front moved from the Atlantic toward the UK.
Taunton Deane Borough Council said its offices would close at 10 am today, but neighbouring Sedgemoor District Council said more than half of its staff had been able to turn up for work and its offices would stay open until 5 pm.
  • Our photographs show (TOP) snow-covered cars and (BELOW) one of the Western Power Distribution helicopters used for spotting downed electricity cables and transporting engineers to the scene. Photos submitted.

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Weather warning for West Somerset as more snow on way tonight

ANOTHER weather warning for West Somerset has been issued by the Met Office as two-and-a-half inches of snow was expected to fall on Exmoor tonight.
People living in some of the highest areas were likely to receive even heavier snowfalls.
It was also forecast to be a windy night with gusts of up to 25 mph in some areas, which would make the air feel even colder.
Met Office spokeswoman Sarah Holland said most of the rest of the Westcountry was likely to escape the worst of the winter weather, and slightly warmer temperatures should move in overnight.
She said: “If people are out and about, they should still take extreme care.”
Earlier this week, there was chaos on the area’s roads with a string of minor accidents, people unable to travel to work, bus and coach runs cancelled, and schools closed in Stogumber, Crowcombe, and Milverton.

'Too many Vicky Pollards in Somerset' say Conservatives

SOMERSET has more ‘Vicky Pollard’ (pictured) young people than almost anywhere else in the country, it has been revealed.
The ‘Little Britain’ television comedy character typifies NEETs - young people ‘Not in Employment, Education or Training’.
Now, Government figures have shown in Somerset the number of NEETS - or Vicky Pollards – rose by 167 per cent between 2003 and 2007, the third-highest county increase in the country.
Nationally, the increase in NEETS was just 12 per cent during the same period.
Somerset County Council Conservative group leader Councillor Ken Maddock said there was no sign on the horizon of any improvement.
Councillor Maddock said: “These figures show there is a problem facing young people nationwide.
“But it is much, much worse in Somerset.
“And that is before we entered the recession.
“Now that the boom has turned to bust, we will pay a huge price for failing to fix the roof when the sun was shining.
“The county council needs to look urgently at measures to help these young people.
“If we fail, we shall be wasting the talents of the next generation.
Somerset cannot afford to let that happen.”

£60 on every Somerset council tax bill 'pays for Lib Dem borrowing'

HIGH-spending Somerset County Council was today criticised for locking itself into uncompetitive borrowing rates for years to come - just as the Bank of England cut rates to their lowest ever level.
The Liberal Democrat-run county has long-term high interest rates on more than £300 million which it has borrowed to fund its spending spree in recent years.
The average rate was about 4.3 per cent - which previously looked good, but not with a base rate now down to just one per cent.
Conservative group finance spokesman Councillor David Huxtable (pictured) said the council could now borrow at rates of less than one per cent.
Councillor Huxtable said: “We have been warning the Lib Dem administration about their huge borrowing and now it has come back to bite them.
“The difference in rates could mean the council paying up to £11 million over the odds this year alone.
“This would put an extra £60 on the council tax for every hard working family in Somerset.”
Somerset Conservative group leader Councillor Ken Maddock said: “The Lib Dems have slipped up big time here.
“They have trebled borrowing in the last six years. Who do they think they are - Gordon Brown?
“We need to act like a responsible council - not like a dodgy hedge fund.
“The Conservatives would reduce Somerset’s dependence on debt and borrow less.
“This is as important to a county council as it is to everybody’s personal finances.”

LETTERS: Tips for dog owners to save costs in recession

Dear Editor - In recent weeks, Dogs Trust, the UK’s largest dog welfare charity, has been very saddened to hear of a number of instances in which people are struggling with the costs of owning a dog, especially when the pet needs veterinary treatment.
Sadly, we have seen an increase in the number of dogs needing to be re-homed because people have lost their jobs and homes in the credit crunch.
Dogs Trust recognises how important dogs are to people’s lives and appreciates that many are struggling to keep them.
We are keen to stress that owning a dog does not have to be expensive and there are many ways that you can keep the cost of ownership down including:

  • Bulk buying food for your dog
  • Feeding dry biscuits rather than tinned food
  • Maintaining pet insurance premiums if you can - insurance may seem expensive, but potential veterinary fees will be more so

For dog owners forced to move into rented accommodation, Dogs Trust will also be launching a ‘Lets with Pets’ campaign this spring to encourage landlords and letting agents to accept tenants with pets.
Dogs Trust is always available to offer advice and assistance where it can.
Anybody struggling to care for their dog in the current economic climate should contact us at 020 7837 0006.

Clarissa Baldwin
Chief executive officer
Dogs Trust
17 Wakley Street

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

LETTERS: Hunting Act 'still alive' despite High Court ruling

Dear Editor - Contrary to what the Countryside Alliance would like us to believe, today’s judgment on the Hunting Act from the High Court is in fact a very positive step forward in ensuring illegal hunters are brought to justice.
Instead of being a ‘new blow to the Hunting Act’, this will clarify the law and clear up any confusion around what is legal hunting and what is illegal hunting.
There is absolutely no suggestion anywhere in the judgment that the Act is unenforceable.
More importantly, this will clear the way for a backlog of cases to pass through the courts which will no doubt see the number of prosecutions rise even further.
The League has always believed the law to be sound and effective and with any law the problem is with enforcement not with the law itself.
Testament to this is the fact nearly 100 MPs have signed a new Early Day Motion calling for better enforcement of the Hunting Act.
Seventy five per cent of the people in the UK do not want to see a return to cruelty when killing wild animals for fun was legal.
It is time the Countryside Alliance et al accepted this and stopped complaining about a law which prevents them enjoying their so-called sport.

Douglas Batchelor
Chief Executive
League Against Cruel Sports
New Sparling House
Holloway Hill


'Nail in coffin' of hunting ban as foxhunter wins High Court ruling

TONY Wright, the first huntsman to be prosecuted under the Hunting Act, today won a High Court ruling which was immediately hailed as a new blow to the Labour Government’s anti-hunting legislation.
The two judges found in favour of Mr Wright (pictured) and rejected an appeal by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), meaning the prosecution of many Hunting Act offences will now be more difficult.
The League Against Cruel Sports brought a private prosecution against Mr Wright after he led out the Exmoor Foxhounds in April, 2005, just a few weeks after the Act came into force.
He was alleged to have signalled the hounds to pursue two foxes at Drybridge, on the Devon side of the county boundary, twice allowing them a ‘prolonged period of pursuit’.
Under the law, only flushing out foxes to be shot is still legal.
Mr Wright, now aged 54, of Simonsbath, was convicted in Barnstaple Magistrates Court in August, 2006, and was fined £500 and ordered to pay £250 costs.
However, the conviction was overturned by in Exeter Crown Court in November, 2007.
Now, a CPS appeal against his acquittal has been lost in the High Court.
The CPS argued it should have been for Mr Wright to prove that he had been hunting legally, and that ‘hunting a mammal’ includes ‘searching’ for it.
After the case, Mr Wright said he was relieved it was now all over and he hoped the case had put one of the final nails in the coffin of the Hunting Act.
He said: “This prosecution has now dragged on for over three years and during that time I have been living under the threat of a criminal conviction.
“If this judgment, though, makes it less likely that other people will face the sort of vindictive prosecution that I have been through, then it has all been worth it.”
Countryside Alliance chief executive Simon Hart said: “Even before today’s judgment only five people connected to hunts have been convicted of any offence since the Act came into force.
“The CPS argued in court that if it lost this appeal ‘prosecutions under the 2004 Act would rarely be viable’, so there should now be even fewer prosecutions.
“The Hunting Act is an increasingly pointless piece of legislation that offered little and has achieved less.
“Politicians of all parties are coming to realise that it has failed and it is now a question of when, not if, the Hunting Act is repealed.”
The ruling means those accused of breaching the hunt ban will be innocent until proven guilty, with the burden of proof lying with those bringing a prosecution.
Legal expert Tim Hayden, chairman of Taunton law firm Clarke Willmott, said: “This decision will reduce the risk of people being convicted where they are unable to recall or to prove the events that may have happened many months earlier.
“I would expect a reduction in the number of such cases being brought before the courts.”

Refuse collectors beat the snow in West Somerset

REFUSE and recycling services in West Somerset were running almost as normal this week, despite the heavy snowfalls.
Somerset Waste Partnership said it was fortunate that collections in the more rural areas, such as on the Quantock Hills and on Exmoor, were not scheduled until later in the week.
Dustbin lorries had instead been able to concentrate on the urban areas, where it was easier to cope with the weather conditions.
However, the household waste recycling centres in Minehead and Dulverton were both closed yesterday as staff had difficulty in travelling to work.
The partnership’s strategy and communications leader David Mansell said yesterday: “There has been a little bit of disruption, mostly in the rural areas.
“We are going to try and catch up as quickly as we can, which could include working over the weekend, but that obviously depends on how the weather turns out.”
Elesewhere in Somerset, there was widespread disruption as refuse and recycling lorries were taken off the roads, particularly in rural areas, because of the danger of accidents.
In West Somersetr, the waste partnership’s collection fleet was fully back on the road again this morning and was focussed on today’s scheduled rounds before looking to tackle the backlog later.
Extra vehicles, such as green waste lorries, had already started on the task of clearing the backlog.
The partnership was advising residents to leave out their refuse containers and it would try to clear them as soon as possible.
The Minehead and Dulverton household waste recycling centres had also reopened today.
However, the partnership warned some garden waste might not be collected this week as the vehicles had been deployed to help catch up on missed refuse collections.
Garden waste would be collected as normal in the next cycle.
Anybody who experiences serious problems because of the deferred garden waste collections should contact West Somerset Council by calling 01643 703704.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Fire crews discover gas cylinder in blazing garden shed

THE potential danger of an exploding gas cylinder was faced by fire and rescue crews who attended a blaze in a garden shed in Watchet this evening.
The seemingly minor incident is Brendon Road turned into a more major alert when a Calor gas cylinder was discovered inside the shed.
Fire crews attended the incident from Williton, Minehead, and Taunton just before 5 pm.
After putting out the blaze, they remained on scene for some time, using two ground monitors.

Shoot owners and opponents set for parish council 'showdown'

A ‘SHOWDOWN’ which had been anticipated tomorrow between residents of Chipstable and the owners of a pheasant shoot has been delayed because of bad weather.
Both sides were due to put their viewpoint to parish councillors holding their bi-monthly monthly meeting in Waterrow Village Hall (pictured).
However, with the heavy snowfalls of the past 48 hours and more forecast, the council has now postponed the meeting until Tuesday, February 10.
The meeting, to be chaired by Councillor David Grandfield, will start at 7.30 pm and anybody is entitled to attend.
Residents have been angered and become upset in recent months because they claim the Chipstable shoot has been responsible for bringing down telephone lines resulting in some properties being left without a service for up to four days.
However, the shoot has refused to take any responsibility for the problem or make an offer to pay towards the damage.
Residents have also complained that local roads were frequently blocked by the shoot and that horses and riders were frightened by the noise of the guns.
The complaints will be aired at the parish council meeting, when representatives of the shoot are expected to attend, after which councillors are likely decide on any appropriate action to take.
  • The council also has a vacancy for a parish tree warden and is urgently seeking volunteers to join its community Speedwatch team.
    The tree warden job would include consultation on tree felling and attending various seminars and information days.
    Training for the Speedwatch team is provided by Avon and Somerset Police and involves use of a mobile radar gun to spot speeding motorists and report them to the police.
  • Anybody interested in either role should contact the parish clerk, Sheila Newman by calling 01398 361346.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Food festival support organisation winding down after decade of success

THE organisation behind the Exmoor Food Festival and the emergence of Somerset as the number one local food county in the country is winding down its affairs after a decade of successful work.
Somerset Food Links has been offering support and advice to a growing number of small start-up food and drink producers since it was formed in 1999.
Now, the not-for-profit company will become dormant at the end of the financial year.
However, the infrastructure and intellectual assets of Somerset Food Links could be utilised by the food and drink sector if new funding streams became available.
The company has created a rich legacy of food and drink events and resources which stretch from one end of the county to the other.
Its achievements include setting up Somerset Farmers Markets Ltd, which now runs 16 farmers markets each month, in communities across the county. It also founded the annual food festivals on Exmoor, the Quantock Hills, in the Mendips, on the Blackdown Hills, and in South Somerset, as well as being integral in the formation of the Wellington Food Town project.
Other huge success stories for Somerset Food Links include:
Somerset Community Food, a charity educating people about growing and cooking food
Levels’ Best, now a premier landscape brand, for marketing quality food and drink produced from the Somerset Levels and Moors
Somerset Local Food Direct, a web-based food and drink home delivery service offering produce from more than 80 local producers
Somerset Food Links’ work has mainly been project based with an aim of creating sustainable organisations.
All of these enterprises are independent and are run by their own boards or members.
The three remaining employees of Somerset Food Links will be pursuing other interests.
Somerset Food Links managing director Andrew Moore said the decision to wind down the operation had been taken reluctantly and with sadness, but the board recognised the organisation needed a new focus and would not be able to achieve this in the current economic climate.
Mr Moore said he was extremely proud of Somerset Food Links past and present staff who were largely responsible for the organisation’s achievements.
He said: “There has been an enormous amount of goodwill from fellow food and drink producers, who we have all enjoyed working with, and have helped form the embryo of a network of businesses that produce some of the best products in the country.
“We are also very grateful to all the other individuals and organisations who have contributed to Somerset Food Links.
“In particular, we are grateful for the grant funds and sponsorship without which we would not have been able to achieve our outputs.
“They include councillors and officers of Somerset County Council, the five district councils in Somerset, Natural England, The National Trust, and in particular Exmoor National Park Authority, which facilitated much important work on Exmoor.”
Somerset Food Links deputy director, Elaine Spencer-White said: “A measure of the resounding success of Somerset Food Links is the fact that during our 10 years we have seen the number of recognised food and drink producers in Somerset more than double.
“Somerset’s food and drink producers produce a fantastic range of goods that is now more easily available to residents, which creates both direct and indirect employment as well as a healthier population.
“However, there is still much work which could be done if the funding was available as the food and drink sector is never static and there is still growth to be achieved and better infrastructure to be developed.
“If you look at the bigger picture of climate change and rising food prices around the world, then you appreciate that local food supplies need to be nurtured.
“They can play a substantial role in the economy of a rural county like Somerset by providing employment, improving the health of the population, and reducing food miles, which is good for the environment.”

Somerset was judged by UKTV Food to be the county with the greatest number of local food producers in 2007.

  • Our photograph shows Somerset Food Links deputy director Elaine Spencer-White. Photo submitted.

Breakfast saved as Quaywest axes local programmes

WEST Somerset’s commercial radio station Quaywest FM has been allowed to axe all but its breakfast programme from locally-produced broadcasts.
The Watchet-based station was saved last year from administration by a buy-out by Bath businessman Paul Roberts.
Now, it has received permission from broadcast regulator Ofcom to share 20 hours’ a day of programming with its sister Quaywest station in Bridgwater.
Although the Watchet and Bridgwater stations were required to provide at least 10 hours a day of local programming, changes to the format agreed by Ofcom mean six of the hours can be shared.
Mr Roberts told Ofcom: “We believe that the move will not only be imperceptible to the local market place, but will also allow us to provide a better quality of service through the economies of scale that this change would allow.
“It will also allow the services to compete more effectively in the local market place.”
A statement from Ofcom said: “There is a clear logic in allowing these two small stations to create regional broadcasting outside breakfast.
“They have been linked through their history and the regionalisation of the drivetime show is most unlikely to create a substantial change to the character of service of either station, or become problematic for listeners.”